Gary City Hall

Easier for Gary to pass a Community Benefits Agreement than implement it

Contributed By:The 411 News

Organization of Gary residents that helped draft law face credibility issues from city council member and mayor

"I'm not opposed to this organization," Gary City Councilman Clorius Lay said of the Committee for a Gary Community Benefits Agreement. "I'm saying they're not credible."

Councilman Lay has circulated the letter he received from the IRS after requesting information on the Committee's tax-exempt status. Dated August 10, the IRS responded, "We have no record of this organization having tax-exempt status under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(a)."

The CGCBA and its efforts to insure that residents have a seat at the table when developers bring projects to the city shows it is easier to get a law passed than get it implemented.

Gary's Community Benefits Agreement was approved by the city council in December 2019, the last month of the Freeman-Wilson administration.

The Committee helped draft the law which is directed at developers seeking a city-issued benefit, like a tax abatement, to give something in return to the community. The agreement stipulates that 15% of the value of the city-issued benefit be paid by the developer to a community project in the impact area.

Projects the community proposes implementing would benefit "but not be limited to schools, parks, health care, affordable housing, African-American/minority/female owned businesses, access to supplier contracts, and environmental protection from industrial projects."

Lay's concerns have resulted in a new ordinance he co-sponsored with the mayor's office to amend the original law. "I don't want the council to make the mistake of giving money to an organization the council has no control over," he said.

An amendment to the law would create a commission whose members would be appointed by the city council and mayor's office. And all developers' contributions would go into the city's general fund or to the city's economic development fund.

Gary's Mayor Jerome Prince seems to have doubted the Committee's credibility when he stepped away from a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the CGCBA and the City of Gary signed by Mayor Freeman-Wilson.

That MOU provided a 5-year, $100,000 annual donation of the city's casino revenues to the Committee. The funds would be used for construction training for Gary residents; pledging to improve the construction training program at the Gary Career Center.

Among his first acts as mayor, Prince told the Committee and the city council he would delay implementing the MOU.

As it stands now, the city council, the mayor's office, and the Committee are determining how the Community Benefits Agreement will apply to Broadway Lofts, a new housing development planned for downtown Gary that is seeking a tax abatement.

Story Posted:08/17/2020

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