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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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
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.