SOUTH BEND -- Two St. Joseph County officials renewed their support for Central time Wednesday by submitting new documents to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Council member Mark Catanzarite's and Commissioner Steve Ross' comments came in the wake of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' request Tuesday that the DOT deny St. Joseph County's petition to move from the Eastern to Central time zone.
The governor said that granting the county's request would split St. Joseph from Elkhart and other nearby counties that want to remain on Eastern time.
South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke, also a Central time advocate, challenged Daniels' contention that the goal of one time zone for Indiana is unattainable.
"Rather, I believe that it has been left untried," said Luecke.
The mayor cited Daniels' strong leadership in moving the state to daylight-saving time and said that with a similar effort, Daniels could help move the entire state to Central time.
"Let's not leave the job half done," Luecke said.
The DOT has been collecting data and comments in connection with the time zone issue, and has promised to release its decision in January.
Ross released a pair of economic studies that support the county's petition to move to the Central time zone, sending copies of each to the DOT.
Wednesday was the last day for submitting time zone comments to the federal department. By late afternoon, more than 4,700 comments had been filed.
Ross said that he commissioned the studies following the Nov. 21 time zone hearing conducted in South Bend by the DOT, and gave the documents' authors, Fort Wayne attorney Paul W. O'Malley and University of Notre Dame associate professor John F. Gaski, complete control over their work.
Ross suggested that it might also be more appropriate for St. Joseph County to leave the Michiana Area Council of Governments, which also includes Elkhart and Marshall counties, and join the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, which consists of Central time zone-oriented Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
Catanzarite, a South Bend firefighter and paramedic, noted that for the past 35 years, the area has "operated on seven months Central and five months Eastern time.
"This type of time arrangement provided additional morning light for several key months of the school year," he said.
The pending switch to daylight-saving time will put the majority of Indiana counties on Eastern time year-around and eliminate most of the morning daylight during the school year, Catanzarite said.
Catanzarite, citing extensive weather studies, said a switch to Central time would improve the safety of schoolchildren by providing more morning light during the school year.
" Northern Indiana is a weather transition zone for extended periods in spring and fall," said Catanzarite, noting the area is subject to numerous fog and snow delays each school year and that the difference between a two- and three-hour morning delay is the critical factor in determining whether school will be canceled.
"Anything more than a two-hour delay automatically cancels classes for the day, and lost time is costly," Catanzarite said.
Catanzarite also cited an executive order initiated by former President Bill Clinton that states factors such as safety and environmental risks to children must be taken into consideration whenever a federal rule or regulation is changed.
Ross said arguments for keeping St. Joseph County in the Eastern time zone have been biased toward Elkhart County. He said he believes including LaPorte County in the discussion would take a more regional approach to the issue.
"We are a regional economy," said Ross, adding that the city of Chicago is at the core of that economy.
Separating St. Joseph County from that economy will have a negative economic impact on the area's economy with no corresponding benefit.
"He's (Daniels) playing with our economic health," said Ross, arguing that the time zone issue "went through the legislature on a partisan basis, but it's affecting people's lives in a nonpartisan way."
O'Malley's report concluded that both LaPorte and St. Joseph county are being economically damaged by the time zone line that currently separates them, and said the line should be moved eastward "to reduce transaction costs between the service oriented economies of these counties with each other and between St. Joseph County and Chicago."
The report also stated that Elkhart County's position in favor of keeping itself and St. Joseph County on Eastern time "may reflect political posturing in defense of economic interests which, while real enough, are of less significance than those of St. Joseph County."
Gaski, an associate professor of marketing who has been a frequent commentator on the time issue, said that while the U.S. Department of Commerce may define St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall and Kosciusko counties as an economic region, "the reality is that St. Joseph and Marshall counties have one preference (Central time) for the region and the Elkhart-Kosciusko axis has another -- by default (Eastern time)."
Gaski said it may be more germane than anyone has yet realized that St. Joseph County's economic performance has been less than ideal for many years.
"To force our county to remain locked into an eastward orientation that no longer is the right fit could be dysfunctional or destructive," Gaski said.
Buchanan pushes Eastern time zone
The city of Buchanan is the latest Michigan community to go on record favoring Eastern time for St. Joseph County. The city of Niles and the Cass County Commissioners last month adopted similar resolutions.
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