Chesterton Tribune



Hospital abatement discussion back on Porter County Council agenda

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The Porter County Council has invited officials from the Porter Regional Hospital to their meeting Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to continue discussing the details surrounding a ten-year tax abatement granted by the Council five years ago.

The meeting will be held in the Commissionersí chambers of the County Administration Building, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso.

Construction for the 430,000 sq. ft. Porter Regional Hospital was completed in 2012 but the Council must determine what assessment year the abatement, which is to be phased out year by year, was to take effect.

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, has said that to set the abatement the County needs to determine what the exact assessment value is and what portions of the hospital fall under the abatement.

Starting the conversation with the Council in February, attorney Brian Hittinger, from the firm that represented the hospital at the time the abatement was approved, said he feels the abatement should start with a ďgeographical footprint,Ē while the Councilís attorney Scott McClure said he believes it should have started during the first assessment year the hospitalís construction was complete.

Meanwhile, County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said that the hospital had not submitted the stateís 322/RE form required to start the abatement, however it did file the CF-1 abatement compliance forms in 2012 and 2013. Hittinger told the Council it has statutory authority to accept a late 322/RE forms to retroactively start the abatement.

After that meeting, a few Council members have continued to seek out other information. Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, has questioned the ownership of the 60,000 sq. ft. adjacent medical building plaza and learned itís owned by The Sanders Trust. He said the building should not be included in the abatement because TST never approached the Council.

Whitten said looking back at the minutes from a Council meeting in July 2011, Porterís former CEO Jonathan Nalli told the Council that the abatement would not include the plaza.

Whitten and Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, made the discovery looking at the resolution for the abatement that the new hospital is to be valued at $130 million or higher, which is the amount Nalli had reported as the construction costs.

County Assessor Jon Snyderís office assessed the hospital property and buildings at $244.5 million. The hospital last week appealed the value to the Indiana Board of Tax Review, saying the assessment should be $39.3 million according to the guidelines in the stateís assessment manual.

In other business, the Council will look at responses for the Request of Information sent out to find companies who can help set up a charitable nonprofit community foundation for the investment of net proceeds related to the sale of Porter Memorial Hospital.

The Council held a joint session with the County Commissioners last month on the subject of investing the hospital sale funds into an endowment to get a better return on investment than it is currently getting to shore up funds in the dwindling County budget.

The RFI seeks prospective companies to give input on what experience they have in handling public government investments and what fees will be required for their services.

Also on Tuesday, the Council will revisit Wichlinskiís request to approve new titles and salaries resulting from the recent staff restructuring in his office. The Auditor had already eliminated five positions in his office before making the request and cross-trained his staff to create what he says is a better work flow.

He said the move would cut almost $250,000 out of his budget based on salary and benefits reductions.

The Council tabled the request as some members wanted to ensure Wichlinskiís restructuring gets the desired results.

In other requests from various department heads, the Commissioners will ask $13,694 be approved in CCD funds to cover office space for the Health Dept. in the North County Complex in Portage.

They will also ask the Council to approve a transfer of $130,000 from Federal/State Prisoner revenue to cover consulting fees for electronics, HVAC upgrades and a sewer screening system at the Porter County Jail.

The Sheriffís Police will ask for $15,000 to be added to its fees budget to cover costs of kitchen, laundry and video equipment repair that has been previously paid out of the Commissioners budget.

The County Highway Department will ask the Council to authorize $80,000 of Major Moves funds to cover depleted supplies from treacherous winter weather, snow plow and pump repairs, and to insurance due to a shortfall in calculated numbers.

The Council will also be asked to appropriate $45,000 to the jury fund to pay jurors.

The IV-D court will ask the Council to change the salary of a case worker from $24,420 to $25,420 to include the 2014 $1,000 raise approved for County employees.

The County Parks Department will request the Councilís approval to use a $50,000 matching grant for the Childrenís Garden at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, as well as a $4,000 additional to the Parks Capital budget for plants and landscaping at Brincka-Cross Gardens.

The Health Department is asking for a $20,000 total additional to its budget for updating its tabletop graphic, reimbursement of cell phones, new food service software, and mobile equipment travel cases for food staff.

The Animal Shelter wishes to use $7,500 of donations to purchase stainless steel cat cages, T-shirts and hoodies.

The Extension Office will ask for a job title change for its 4-H program Manager to be called Extension Programs Manager.



Posted 4/21/2014