Porter County Commissioner Robert Harper is pledging to uphold his stand of
keeping new taxes out of Porter County and practicing “green” environmental
Harper is the Democratic incumbent in this year’s race for the county’s
center district Commissioner, running against Republican newcomer Nancy
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,”
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
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
Harper also served as Porter County Prosecutor in 1974 and was also an
elected Portage City Judge.