CROWN POINT — The two men looking to take the helm in Crown Point have differing plans for how the city should take shape in the next four years.
Incumbent Mayor David Uran, a Democrat seeking his second term, wants to see the city continue to prosper and grow through reinvestment in infrastructure and amenities and with the help of tax incentives that drive economic development, while keeping taxes low and spending in check.
Republican challenger Eldon Strong, current Center Township Trustee, said the focus should be on reducing spending, reducing the amount of money expended through tax increment financing districts, filling empty businesses and reducing overall debt.
“Obviously if we look at the last four years, it puts us in a position to be very successful for years to come,” Uran said.
The city has cut expenses in every department, holding the line on the budget and redirecting savings to areas of need such as public safety. Officials have brought in more than $30 million in grants that have been used for infrastructure such as 109th Avenue and various storm water projects and quality of life improvements like the bike trail and Sportsplex. Work on the first phase of the Sportsplex was completed with no additional tax dollars and has begun generating revenue for the city.
Uran said only $2 million of the city’s current debt services is backed by property taxes. He said expenditures are necessary to get the city the infrastructure it needs to be in a strong position.
He likened reinvesting in the city to doing routine upkeep and maintenance to a home. In order to protect the $1.4 billion in assessed valuation in the city, officials need to maintain and improve its infrastructure and services.
“Crown Point wouldn’t be where it is at if it didn’t have Lake Michigan water, expansion of the sewer treatment plant, expansion of the Broadway corridor. You can see how the city of Crown Point is growing exponentially from those moves,” Uran said. “We want to continue to move the city of CP forward.”
Strong said spending is not the answer.
“Government is always spending. We have to spend money on important things, but we have to look for ways to reduce spending,” Strong said.
Strong said officials need to stop paying money into the tax increment financing districts and redirect those revenues to the general fund. He said TIF districts are intended to redevelop blighted areas with infrastructure improvements like sewer and water. Since those infrastructure improvements have already been done, officials need to look at how to return revenues to the general fund. He said the city needs to look at retiring debt before taking on new debt to fund work.
“Property values go down when debt goes up. If you want to pick the assessed valuation back up, you have to reduce the debt,” he said.
Strong said the city needs to look closer at some of the contracts it issues for work and gave the example of a $35,000 dirt removal contract for the new football fields. Instead of paying for the work, he said the city should have found a company that would have done the work without charge in exchange for the removed soil.
“Some people might not think $35,000 is a lot, when you save dimes, you save the dollars, you save the dollars it turns into big money. It’s what we must do, live within our means,” Strong said.