Monday, August 27, 2007

Divorcing Gary is hard to do

I can't say I would be surprised by this. I'm surprised no one has tried this sooner. Leaving a city, almost like what the San Fernando Valley tried to do in Los Angeles.

In this case we're talking about Gary, Indiana. Gary is a largely struggling city almost a half hour away from Chicago. It was host to a black political convention in the 1970s and in its heyday it was a steel town. Manufacturing steel was for the most part was its only industry. Then the steel industry down shifted and Gary's been struggling for a long time.

So let's have a look at who's trying to leave Gary from Today's Tribune...
Along Lake Michigan, the cozy, charming Miller community is a place where beach dwellers' time seems to slow.

On the outskirts of downtrodden Gary, some of the enclave's residents long have considered themselves estranged from their gritty city.

But in recent weeks, a heated, sometimes passionate conversation has unfolded over whether Miller should legally divorce Gary. The idea has been batted around before, but in more abstract ways. This time, some residents are working on a formal plan, circulating fliers and researching how much time and money it would take to break away.

The concept is the topic of discussion in local restaurants, bars and cafes. It's been the buzz on e-mail listservs and in chat rooms; written about in the local papers and debated on radio programs.

"[Some] people are wild about this," said Nora Glenn, a longtime Miller resident who facilitates an online community information board where residents discuss their concerns. "I don't get it -- and I don't like this conversation. Our schools, this environmental issue with BP, that's the stuff we should be discussing. But no ... we're not. This is definitely the hot topic."

The discussion illustrates how frustrated some taxpayers and homeowners are with Gary government and an image of struggling schools, corruption and high crime. Crime statistics still rank the city as one of the nation's most violent. Test scores in public schools are below the national average, and recently the state ordered city leaders to cut $11 million from the budget.

"The city of Gary is in terrible financial shape, and it's not due to the amount of money they collect," said Nat McKnight, who's trying to gauge interest in the idea of breaking away. "They are not willing to economize and protect the tax base. That's what disannexation is all about. It might be better for Gary and Miller if this comes to pass."

The conversation grew out of a recent increase in property taxes. James Nowacki and other homeowners began to wonder if Miller could form an independent, efficient government supported by the property taxes its residents currently pay.

Even proponents of the idea say separating wouldn't eliminate all of the problems. If Miller and surrounding neighborhoods were to become the village of Miller Beach, a 9-square-mile region would be sliced from Gary, including pockets of poverty.

"We're not just grabbing a great section of town," Nowacki said. "There are assets, but there are problems too. By no means are we looking at scraping off the cream and leaving the other things behind."

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