The members of the newly formed Porter County Redevelopment Commission were
sworn in Thursday morning by Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper before lining
up their responsibilities and officers at their first meeting.
Portage Schools Superintendent Ric Frataccia was picked by his peers to
chair the commission and county drainage board president Dave Burrus was
“I certainly look forward to learning from all my colleagues,” Frataccia
Both he and Burrus are county commissioner appointments. The state statute
allows the commissioners to have two citizen appointments and the county
council to have one citizen appointment. The presidents of both boards are
to be members of the commission also, according to state statute, or a
In a move that had not been previously announced, Commissioner President
John Evans, R-North, said he would step off the commission and designate
John Shepherd – the director of the former county advisory redevelopment
commission – in his place.
Shepherd had been in the running to be the County Council’s citizen
appointment but failed to capture the spot as the council, in a split vote,
chose one of their own, Councilman Jim Polarek, R-4th.
Although not a voting member, Evans said he would “be very active and will
participate” in the commission’s discussions.
The other voting member is Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, who
was absent from the meeting.
The board’s non-voting advisor is Duneland School Board member Ralph Ayres,
who will be on hand to inform the board from time-to-time on how their
actions could affect local school districts.
“I’m here to represent all schools,” Ayres told the board.
Aside from electing officers, the board discussed its role and when it will
hold its meetings. The board will meet every third Thursday of the month at
8:30 a.m. inside the Commissioners’ Chambers at the County Administration
The first items of business for the board were grant opportunities
originally considered by the former redevelopment commission for projects in
the center and southern sections of the county.
A grant from the Office of Rural and Community Affairs is being sought to
correct street and drainage problems in the Lake Eliza area southwest of
Valparaiso. Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson, an OCRA
grant administrator, said he would not have time available to write the
grant application and may hire a consultant to complete it for him.
Another OCRA grant would be used for restoration work of the historical
Collier Lodge located on Baums Bridge Road close to where it crosses the
Kankakee River. The Kankakee Valley Historical Society would be the receiver
of the grant but the application would need to be made by a government body.
Because the grant would be in private hands, the commission debated whether
the grant would be worth pursuing at the county’s expense.
Thompson said the application for the grant would cost $5,000.
One solution Shepherd suggested was to ask the consultant if he would agree
to be compensated if and after the grant is received.
The same approach would be tried for a third grant opportunity to repair the
Sagers Lake Dam in Valparaiso, which is also on private property. Repairs to
the dam would be in the county’s interest, Thompson said, since if the dam
happened to burst, flooding would reach all the way across where U.S. 30 and
Ind. 2 intersect causing significant property damage.
Evans wished to see that the agreements be written so that county would not
be held liable.
The commission decided to revisit the items at its next meeting after
communication is made with the respective parties.
Thompson said he would also get to the commission members copies of the
state statute regarding the formation of redevelopment commissions and its
responsibilities. Although the statute carries a mission statement, some
members felt it was appropriate to craft their own.
Shepherd agreed to give a general overview to the board at its next meeting
on how tax increment finance (TIF) districts work. The redevelopment
commission has the ability to purpose TIF districts in unincorporated areas
of the county, which would also need approval from the plan commission and
county commissioners in order to be established.
Ayres said he would like to see the board request annual reports on the
impacts of TIF districts and tax abatements.
The board will
also reach out to the County Jobs Cabinet for further discussion on economic
development. Evans said the cabinet should be releasing their study in a