One week after the
Porter County Council began establishing the terms of the 10-year tax
abatement for Porter Regional Hospital, County Council Member Jim Biggs,
R-1st, raised specific questions about the actual owner of the approximately
60,000-square foot medical office building on the property.
The building sits
southwest of the hospital, located at U.S. Highway 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty
At last Thursday’s
Council meeting, Porter Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Harmon and hospital
attorney Brian Hittinger were both unable to say who exactly owns that
building, although Hittinger did say that it’s owned by a trust.
Scott McClure is currently formulating a legal opinion as to whether that
building should be included in the abatement.
conducted his own research. The owner of the building, he has determined:
Sanders Realty Trust (TST) of Birmingham, Ala., which he said he discovered
after finding an article featured on the website of one of the general
contractors for the hospital’s construction.
That article, Biggs
said, puts the office building’s worth at $12 million and states that
several departments and physician offices for Porter Health are housed
TST, for its part,
also released a press statement in August 2011 which ran in the
Chesterton Tribune. In that statement TST said that the firm completed a
“successful syndication” with Porter Health and through it TST would retain
majority ownership of the building to benefit both it and hospital
Biggs on Tuesday
expressed surprise that the arrangement with TST was never discussed when
the County Council granted the abatement to the hospital. Biggs also said
that he’s been unable to find any document authorizing the hospital to pass
on the abatement’s benefits to another building which it neither owns nor
operates. “I find it nearly impossible that no one in County Government knew
about this,” he said.
showed the press a copy of the building permit for the structure in
question, issued in September 2011, which lists Porter Hospital LLC as the
And, Porter County
Assessor Jon Snyder said, there is no property record card for TST. The
hospital and its improvements are all included on a single record card
belonging to Porter Hospital LLC, although that card does show the office
and the hospital as two separate buildings, he said.
The hospital was
assessed at $244.5 million in 2013, which included the land and the office
building, Snyder said. But in conducting the assessment, Snyder said that he
wasn’t allowed access to the office building.
Biggs told the
Chesterton Tribune that the office building should not be part of the
hospital abatement unless TST follows the same application and review
process as the hospital did, and that any abatement granted to the hospital
be based on the building’s own economic merits.
Biggs said that he
would ask the hospital to “drop the veil” and have an open discussion about
the office building.
agreements on the hospital’s tax revenues is costing both parties time and
money, Biggs said, as well as the overlapping taxing units dependent on
receiving those tax revenues, such as the Duneland School Corporation. “To
display this clandestineness over the assessment is not doing any good to
any of us,” he said.
President Dan Whitten, D-at large, told the Chesterton Tribune he
holds a more optimistic view and praised the hospital for “going above and
beyond” its economic-development commitments.
Hittinger’s claims that Porter Regional Hospital has hired 213 new staff
whose $15 million salaries are pumping money into the local economy.
Hittinger also reported more construction workers were used than
anticipated, which Whitten lauded. “To whoever owns that building, I want to
thank you for building it and creating trade union jobs in our county,”
Whitten said he
would agree that TST would need to apply for its own abatement but is
waiting to hear McClure’s opinion.
Biggs said he
agrees having the new hospital “is an absolute positive benefit to Porter
County,” but wishes it would give Snyder access to what he needs in order to
come up with the right tax value.
is not going anywhere so they are going to have to talk to us,” Biggs said.