Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

County Commissioner Race: Harper: No new tax platform still stands, growth must be managed

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Commissioner Robert Harper is pledging to uphold his stand of keeping new taxes out of Porter County and practicing “green” environmental management methods.

Harper is the Democratic incumbent in this year’s race for the county’s center district Commissioner, running against Republican newcomer Nancy Adams.

A 69-year-old personal injury attorney, Harper said the ever growing number of taxes is what is stifling our economy and contends that income taxes should never be levied at the county level.

He said that citizens are not just mad, but “livid” with government, and would like to see all levels of government stop “out of control” spending.

“We can run county government with what we are allotted right now,” said Harper in an interview with the Chesterton Tribune.

Harper said putting caps on property taxes -- one percent for personal properties, two percent for rental properties, and three percent for businesses -- would help control spending and improve the quality of life for county residents in general.

The caps will be voted on in a statewide referendum this year.

Like the caps, Harper has pushed for many pieces of reform to be passed. In his near eight years as a commissioner, Harper has succeeded in proposing and passing a County Ethics Ordinance, an Unsafe Building Ordinance, a Stormwater Drainage Ordinance, and a Green Space Ordinance that requires new subdivisions to set aside ten percent of the acreage to preserve “green space” in the county.

Harper has taken his share of criticism that alleges he stands in the way of growth, but he says he welcomes growth as long as it is managed properly and creates no extra costs to residents.

Harper also helped pass the county’s updated Unified Development Ordinance in 2008 that sets guidelines for zoning in unincorporated areas of the county and encourages commercial developments to be built in towns rather than in rural residential districts.

More recently, Harper and the commissioners coordinated a countywide drainage study to locate priority areas where stormwater relief is needed. The project has already begun to remedy a few of the afflicted areas and will be continuing to its second phase in a matter of weeks.

In April, Harper voted for the creation of a county economic development commission that would allow business to access money at low interest rates for the purpose of economic growth through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Harper believes that Porter County is one of the fastest growing communities in the state and that zoning will become a bigger issue in the near future, especially along U.S. 6 with the opening of the new Porter hospital in 2012.

Harper says that the county is in a “unique position” having the money from the hospital sale in 2007, almost $9 million in interest from the $160 million in proceeds.

As agreed by the county and the hospital directors, the principle cannot be touched for five years after the sale but the interest can be tapped into by joint agreement between the commissioners and the county council.

It is very important, Harper said, that the two bodies establish a set of rules or parameters on the use of hospital funds.

Harper proposed the county decide three things: (1) none of the money be spent on ordinary operating expenses for county government, (2) forbid use of money on any project that would entail ongoing government expenditures, and (3) if the money is used for anything other than refunds to the taxpayers, the projects would need to create long-term employment for county residents and also increase land value.

“To use that money to create bigger government or more government expenses would be totally wrong,” he said.

Harper says jobs are the top concern with voters at the moment, but he believes voters are smart enough to know there is no “magic formula” out there to create them and that they recognize the problem runs deep.

“I think it’s an absolute shame we have a country where we tax ourselves out of prosperity. I believe every man and woman in the United States who wants to work and is properly trained should get a good paying job with benefits,” he said.

By maintaining a low tax rate and low crime, Harper believes the county will be able to attract more business and create jobs.

“We’ve got a quality of life. We got it because we have greenspace. We have the Dunes and Kankakee River. We have lower tax rates compared to other areas. That’s why we’re fast growing,” he said.

Harper would also like to increase law enforcement to keep crime down and purchase up-to-date equipment for county police to do a better job. He would also like to create another halfway house to help troubled persons rather than having them incarcerated.

Harper does not see any big changes in county government over the next year but does see state legislators imposing more income taxes on the county, which he said he would strongly oppose.

Harper has supported the county’s decision last year to break away from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. Porter County’s membership is funded in part through a .25 percent income tax on county taxpayers, to support regional projects in Lake and Porter counties.

Any type of legislation that places an income tax on individual counties Harper believes is unconstitutional. He hopes the legal battle will catch the attention of the Indiana Supreme Court to stop legislators from “logrolling” or issuing taxes outside of their districts.

If regional groups like the RDA or the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority propose new projects within the county, Harper said he would like for them to explain where funds for the projects will come from.

“I think ‘regionalism’ should be defined as government units joining together to provide better services for lesser amounts,” said Harper, adding projects with Lake County would just create more expenses.

Here in Porter County, Harper said he would like to continue providing good public service by maintaining dependable workers. The commissioners oversee a number of departments including the county highway, maintenance, and information technology.

A longtime resident of Center Township, Harper was elected to the commissioner’s seat by the Democratic caucus after commissioner Larry Sheets passed away in 2003 and was elected by county voters to his first full term in 2006.

Harper also served as Porter County Prosecutor in 1974 and was also an elected Portage City Judge.

 

Posted 10/12/2010

 

 

 

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