Chesterton Tribune

Porter County TIF board is a step closer

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Porter County is one step away from adopting an ordinance establishing its own redevelopment commission with the ability to propose tax increment financing (TIF) districts similar to those set up by cities and towns.

All three commissioners gave the nod to a first reading of the ordinance on Tuesday and set the date for the second reading on June 19.

The redevelopment commission will be comprised of five members with voting power, County Plan Commission Executive Director Bob Thompson said. Three will be chosen by the commissioners with the option of having one of their appointments be the commissioner president or a designee. The other two seats will be filled by the County Council.

John Shepherd, who was the volunteer director of the former advisory redevelopment commission for the county, said the commissioners would also need to select one ex-officio member who would need to be a school board member from somewhere in the county. He said this order was mandated by state law years ago as TIF districts drew criticism for diverting money away from schools which at that time relied on property taxes for their general fund budgets. Education in its own right, Shepherd said, is an important part of economic redevelopment.

The former advisory redevelopment commission, which had nine members, could only make suggestions to the commissioners on matters like federal grants, such as the one sought for the Lake Eliza area and another for the historic Collier Lodge on the Kankakee River, Shepherd said.

The new redevelopment commission can obtain grants on its own terms. Tax revenue collected will be used strictly for economic development and create opportunities and environments for jobs through new infrastructure such as water, sewers and roads. “The idea is job creation,” said Shepherd.

The method is different from redevelopment commissions which set up TIF districts to revitalize blighted communities. Some of these types of TIF districts exist in Lake County but none exist in Porter County. Economic TIF districts also don’t have the power of eminent domain, Shepherd said.

If the redevelopment commission wished to implement a TIF district, it would first need its members to set the district’s geographical boundaries. From there, the layout would be proposed to the plan commission who could either pass it along to the county commissioners or kick it back to the redevelopment commission to make adjustments. The commissioners would be the final checkpoint before a TIF district can be formed and could also make adjustments if they wished.

Shepherd said he has no knowledge if the redevelopment commission plans to draw TIF districts but there has been speculation by some officials the U.S. 6 corridor, specifically around the new Porter hospital, will be one. Other districts might include the developments around the county airport.

When a TIF is established, a baseline property value is set. Any property taxes collected at or before the baseline go to the taxing units while any tax revenue from commercial and industrial property above the baseline would go to the redevelopment commission.

Redevelopment commissions can also receive money by grants or by offering bonds, Shepherd said.

According to Shepherd, the Redevelopment Commission would have no taxing powers, saying that is reserved for a governmental unit’s fiscal body.

Addressing the concern that TIF districts would take property taxes away from some school budgets, County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said that he will see to it that no tax dollars are taken away from any school budgets.

“That is something we want to be sure of,” Evans said.

Each school corporation in Porter County has at least some portion of unincorporated county land. The state now is responsible for funding schools’ general funds through a state sales tax, but all other funds such as capital improvement and transportation funds are paid from property taxes, Shepherd said. Also, Duneland residents voted May 8 to restore a general fund property tax rate for schools in their district.

The Valparaiso TIF district which enters Washington Township is the only one of the 14 TIF districts throughout the county that currently has a pass-through for schools, said County Auditor Robert Wichlinski.

Only one resident spoke during the public hearing on the ordinance. Plan Commission member Herb Read did not speak for or against the measure but asked to get clarification on what role the plan commission would play in forming TIF districts.


Posted 6/6/2012