Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Commissioners declare county recovery zones to receive federal funds

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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 within Portage.

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 works.

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 unit’s establishment.

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 between them.

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 year.

“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.

Signs Vandalized 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 Hoagland.

Evans requested that anyone witnessing acts of vandalism to please call the sheriff’s department.

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.



Posted 4/21/2010






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