Chesterton Tribune

 
 

County RDC mulls hospital TIF boundaries

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The first proposed tax increment financing district (TIF) in unincorporated Porter County could mean more utility improvements for residents living along the U.S. 6 corridor and possibly more general fund money for the Duneland School Corporation.

But it could also mean a lower number for the county’s total assessed value.

Those are things the Porter County Redevelopment Commission wishes to find out before making a recommendation to the Plan Commission and the County Commissioners for approval of TIF boundaries around Porter Regional Hospital.

New map

On Thursday, Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson showed commission members Dave Burrus, John Shepherd, Jim Polarek and non-voting school advisor Ralph Ayres a map showing the parameters of an allocation area surrounding the hospital at U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty Twp.

A committee consisting of Thompson, Shepherd and Burrus was formed at the commission’s December meeting to begin mapping TIF districts.

The hospital, as the map shows, would be in the center of the TIF area. Meridian Road and CR 900N would serve as the northwest boundary. Where Calumet Ave. and CR 900N meet would be the northeast TIF boundary. From there, the TIF would run south down Calumet until it reaches about CR 750N. The southwest tip would run alongside the boundary line of Sunset Hill Farm County Park near CR 700N and Meridian Road.

TIF revenue would only be collected from new commercially zoned properties, Thompson said. However, he said it can aid all properties regardless of zoning classification by putting in new infrastructure and utilities, which is why the Sunset Hill Farm property was included even though it is zoned for park use.

The area looked at also includes two mobile home parks that could receive new sewer sanitary systems, as well as revamped utilities to help drainage in other neighborhoods such as Timberland Farms.

The committee also proposed to extend the TIF district west beyond Meridian Road by limiting it to just the U.S. 6 roadway and contiguous commercial properties.

There are areas zoned for commercial development around the U.S. 6 and Calumet Ave. intersection, Thompson pointed out, and on the St. Andrews property next to the hospital which has recently broken ground on building medical offices.

Hospital cut out?

But the inclusion of the 104-acre hospital property in the TIF is what made Polarek, the fourth district representative on the County Council, question how much of an impact it would have on the county’s total assessed value. The County Council had granted the hospital a 10-year tax abatement that would gradually phase in assessed value year-by-year.

Shepherd acknowledged that the new assessed values would go to the Redevelopment Commission as TIF revenue rather than local taxing units, but the tax revenue could be passed through.

Polarek suggested to his colleagues to “cut out the footprint” of the hospital from the map, saying putting a TIF on the property was too much of a risk to the county’s AV, given that other areas are close to hitting the tax caps. “That’s a large chunk that would be gone,” he said.

Excluding the hospital would mean there would be more reliance on other commercial properties for infrastructure improvements, Shepherd added.

Burrus said the commission should find out the financial impacts of their options. “We have a discussion we need to keep open. There are benefits either way,” he said.

The members decided they will call upon a financial advisor to provide some insights to them and to heads of local taxing units involved such as the Duneland School Corporation, the Liberty Township Volunteer Fire Department, and Liberty Township Trustee Beth Underwood. The commission plans to have the discussion at its next meeting on Thursday, Feb. 21.

In addition, the Commission will also be seeking the opinions of a legal advisor in its efforts to set TIF geographical boundaries. Shepherd suggested Portage City Attorney Greg Sobkowski as the legal advisor and Karl Cender as the financial advisor.

More school general fund money?

Meanwhile, SEH Director of Government Affairs Doug Olson sitting in the audience asked the commission whether instead of pass-throughs, if they could instead “grant an X number of dollars” to the school district’s general fund – the budget that pays for teaching, staff and school programs.

The state’s current school funding formula shifts the use of property tax revenue away from general funds, but schools’ capital improvement project funds and bus replacement fund are still generated by property taxes. A member of the Duneland School Board, Ayres pointed out schools cannot transfer money from one fund to the other.

Shepherd said there may be flexibility in how TIF revenues can be directed to the schools but the question will have to be put to the legal advisor.

Ayres said if money can be granted from the TIF district, it would be helpful to the school district to know how much it will get as the district plans beyond a one-year budget. He said he would make his fellow school board members aware of the commission’s discussion.

Traffic on 6

With the accepted notion that more development will be mushrooming along U.S. 6, the Commission discussed the topic of widening the road to accommodate the traffic coming in and out of Porter Regional Hospital.

“The traffic patterns have shifted dramatically,” said Ayres who mentioned the Duneland School Board had written a letter to the Indiana Department of Transportation in July inquiring if there will be actions taken to make travel safer for school buses in the additional traffic generated around the new hospital.

Now that the hospital has opened its doors, proper traffic studies can be done, Ayres said. More traffic has been seen from the east, he said, as Portage motorists are traveling to the hospital. Ayres said he has also noticed increased traffic on surrounding county roads.

Thompson reported that there are nothing in INDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement plan on U.S. 6 and the project could take until 2018 or later, unless the County is willing to kick in some of the funds.

Commission members said they would like to see if municipalities in the County such as the Town of Chesterton and the Cities of Portage of Valparaiso as well as the County Commissioners and the Duneland School Board would help rally for INDOT to take action.

Thompson said he believes the redevelopment commission would be the best entity to make the official request to INDOT. He plans to discuss the matter at an upcoming Commissioners meeting.

Ayres noted the Duneland School Board also sent inquiries to the County Commissioners last year about ways they could improve safety at the CR 700N intersection of Meridian Rd. Board member Ron Stone had said there are seven to ten accidents per year there and it is the second worst intersection in the county for traffic collisions.

Thompson said the Commissioners have asked him to look at different alternatives there. Thinking conditions at the intersection could be improved with TIF revenues, the redevelopment commission will try to include it as part of the proposed TIF district.

Absent from the meeting Thursday were commission members President Ric Frataccia and Jeremy Rivas.

 

Posted 1/18/2013