Chesterton Tribune

County redevelopment commission organizes; Frataccia elected chair

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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 named vice-chair.

“I certainly look forward to learning from all my colleagues,” Frataccia said.

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 designee.

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 Building.

Restoration grants

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.

Mission Statement, TIFs

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 short time.




Posted 8/24/2012