Chesterton Tribune



Commissioners retain outside law firm to assess prosecutor lease

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A problematic lease for the Prosecutor’s Child Support division at 15 N. Franklin in Valparaiso will undergo an independent legal review, per action of the Porter County Board of Commissioners at its meeting yesterday.

The Board approved a legal services agreement for LaPorte-based firm Newby, Lewis, Kaminski and Jones to examine the legality of the lease, which appears to have locked the County into its current space at 15 N. Franklin until 2024 at an above market value price after it gained early renewal at a 2014 Commissioners meeting where one member of the Board was absent and the public was not notified of the discussion of the lease through the meeting agenda.

County Attorney Scott McClure said Newby, Lewis, Kaminski and Jones is a general law firm that has done work in real estate and municipal government. Members of the firm working on the review will be paid hourly at a rate of up to $290 per hour, depending on who does the work.

The lease extension was discovered this spring, as the Commissioners began planning to move several County offices--Child Support included--to the old jail building at 157 Franklin after acquiring it back from a private owner for $3.6 million as part of their $30 million Capital Improvements Plan. The Commissioners, the County Council, and McClure were surprised to learn of the extension.

Several officials have called for a thorough review of the lease to find possible outs, and those calls have been compounded by an independent assessment of the space that concluded it was 400 square feet smaller than the lease agreement states and nearly 1,000 square feet smaller than an application for a property tax exemption--which was granted in 2009, and has saved the building’s owner over $80,000 in property taxes over its life-- states. The exemption is slated for review by the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals (PTABOA) at its Oct. 29 meeting.

The new inquiry is “an independent eye on whether there’s any legal basis to challenge the lease or not,” according to McClure.

McClure continued, “At the end of the day, all I want to do is have an independent legal opinion, and whatever it is, it is, and we can move forward.”

Commissioner President Jeff Good, R-Center, said the results of the inquiry will be discussed at a joint executive session of the Commissioners and County Council before the 2019 budget is finalized. The budget is due to the state Nov. 1.

Per Indiana law, one of the reasons a government body can hold an executive session is to discuss pending or possible litigation. If any legal action is possible, the Commissioners will have to initiate it, McClure said.


Posted 10/10/2018






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