Absentee voting is underway in the Michigan City area on a request for an increase in property taxes to keep from possibly having to close schools and lay off teachers.

A referendum Nov. 5 asks voters in the school district, which includes Pine Township in Porter County, to decide whether to allow an increase of .17 cents over the current propery tax caps for seven years.

That translates into a $170-a-year increase on the taxes of a $100,000 home, LaPorte County Clerk Lynne Spevak said.

Michigan City School Board member Beryle Burgwald said the administration has been out trying to build support, but he's making no predictions.

Burgwald said the extra money is needed to close a $4.6 million deficit that still exists after more than $10 million in spending cuts have been made.

The extra revenue from a higher tax would maintain existing operating costs.

If the referendum doesn't pass, "the alternative is you'll have to close schools, lay off teachers and have larger class sizes. None of which we want," Burgwald said.

One reason cited by officials for the deficit is overspending during a time of unpredictable revenue streams caused by the several year delay in completing the countywide property tax reassessment, officials said.

Former Coolspring Township Trustee Dennis Metheny has been active expressing opposition, saying many already cash-strapped property owners can't afford the burden of more taxes.

He feels better financial management by the school corporation is the best answer.

"More money does not fix what's broke," Metheny said.

Burgwald said a bond issue to close the budget gap was considered.

However, the board chose against borrowing more funds due to having an outstanding debt of $91 million, mostly from building new schools and other construction projects.

"It's like digging yourself out of a hole by digging deeper," Burgwald said.

Metheny also believes the outcome of the referendum is too close to call.

Since Oct. 4 when absentee voting began, more than 100 walk in ballots have been cast, Spevak said.

Spevak said voters can go to the courthouse in Michigan City to vote absentee every Friday between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Nov. 1 and just the Saturday before the referendum from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Residents in Porter County's Pine Township, can vote at the Porter County Government Center, 155 Indiana Ave., 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Voting will also be available 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Government Center. 

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