After having tabled a decision at their previous meeting, the Porter County
Board of Commissioners is ready to recommend to the county council the
creation of a county economic development commission. The move will allow
the county to possibly receive more than $13 million in federal money
through public works and recovery zone facility bonds as well as providing
some tax relief.
Porter County Redevelopment Advisory Commission Director John Shepherd said
facility and public works bonds would borrow funds with substantially
lowered interest rates providing savings to local taxpayers.
The money would come from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of
2009, also known as the Federal Recovery act.
The commissioners unanimously passed four resolutions in regards to the ARRA
program: to name Porter County a “Recovery Zone” which would allow access to
low interest funds, to approve a public works bond for a proposed 24,000
square foot education building in Portage, to approve a facility bond for a
100,000 square foot medical office to be located near the future Porter
Hospital site near where Ind. 49 and U.S. 6 intersect, and to support the
creation of a county EDC that would allow the bonds to filter through.
Portage Mayor Olga Velazquez said the $24 million education building will be
located in the downtown area and would need additional funding. The building
could accommodate the overflow of a few nearby educational institutions such
as Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech which have had to rent space
Shepherd said the EDC would have three appointed members, one designated by
the commissioners, another by the county council, and the other by the
county’s largest municipality.
Commissioners expressed concern at their previous meeting on April 6 that a
county EDC unit would have power of eminent domain and the power to raise
taxes by non-elected officials. County Attorney Gwenn Rinkenberger said the
EDC would have limited power and that no taxes would be created. The only
function it would have is to award loans to public works and businesses in
the private sector.
County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South, questioned what would be the
county’s liability if the bonds were to “belly up.” Shepherd said the goal
of the program is for the Internal Revenue Service to provide borrowers tax
relief and he does not see how the bonds would bankrupt the county public
County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, told Shepherd everything discussed
“sounded wonderful” and that the commissioners just needed verification from
the attorney before giving their recommendation.
The creation of the county EDC will be put on the agenda for the upcoming
Porter County Council meeting next week which has the final word on the
Opera House and
Museum Wish to Forge Cultural Center
Memorial Opera House Director Brian Schafer introduced the concept of a
feasibility study with the opera house and the Porter County Jail Museum to
the commissioners Tuesday for the creation of a cultural center to be
located in downtown Valparaiso.
“This (area) could be a dining and entertainment Mecca,” said Schafer.
Both venues are examining ideas of creating joint projects that would
increase the visibility and the viability in the county, said Schafer. One
idea would be to connect the two venues through the courtyard that sits
Schafer noted this new structure would give the two buildings expandability
since both are running out of space.
Plans for the addition would include offices and provide a handicapped
entranceway which the museum currently lacks.
County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, said he believes it
is not the right time for the commissioners to commit to this “pretty
substantial” project since the county has basically frozen funding this
“I think what the public wants now is less government,” said Harper.
Evans agreed with Harper but commented that the museum and opera house
provide a way for the county to provide “arts and entertainment”
opportunities for its residents.
Schafer said he does not expect the commissioners to commit to the project
any time soon but is looking for other mechanisms to help fund the project.
in South Haven
Porter County Highway Superintendent Al Hoagland reported that $4,000 in
damages were done to stop signs in South Haven last Thursday night and
presented to the commissioners the signs ruined with graffiti.
“I think the taxpayers ought to know we’re paying for this nonsense,” said
Evans requested that anyone witnessing acts of vandalism to please call the
On a lighter note, Hoagland said his time working with the county just
passed the 30-year mark, yielding a round of applause from the audience.
Also on Tuesday, County Plan Commission Director Robert Thompson reminded
those present that the first public forum for the countywide comprehensive
drain-age plan will be held at the Porter County Expo Center this Thursday.
A total of four public forums will be held with the final session at the
Westchester Library Service Center on Monday, May 3.
All forums will be held from 5 to 8 p.m.
Mike Jabo of DLZ said the county has so far received back nearly a thousand
responses from questionnaire forms that were mailed out to those living in
unincorporated areas of Porter County.