Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Porter County Council wants a say on TIF districting

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Cheers for tax increment financing districts have been heard far and wide throughout the county but it was only jeers Tuesday at the Porter County Council meeting.

A flood of arguments against TIF districts started after Council member Jim Polarek, R-4th, mentioned a bill has been proposed in the Indiana Senate by State Sen. Luke Kenley, R- Noblesville, which proposes a redevelopment commission (RDC) not be allowed to pay out funds collected from TIF districts without authorization from the legislative body that created the RDC.

Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, echoed a past argument he made last June opposing the placement of a TIF district on the Porter Regional Hospital property on U.S. 6 near the Ind. 49 intersection. According to Whitten, the TIF would take away tax money generated that was promised to benefit the homeowners of Porter County from the $210 million hospital.

The Council, Whitten said, invested in the hospital by way of a structured tax abatement that over time the revenue generated would outweigh the cost of the abatement. He also advised against putting a TIF district on the surrounding businesses as the County will be reliant on new commercial properties and development to get the county’s declining assessed values to bounce back to keep the budgets from going into the red.

“When we look at these budgets, we are dependent on commercial growth,” said Whitten. “If we don’t have that, we are going to be pushing this county into another income tax.”

As it has been explained by County RDC member John Shepherd, the RDC would set boundaries for an allocation area, which would be brought to the county plan commission which would make changes or pass along a recommendation to the County Commissioners. The County Commissioners would ultimately be the body to authorize the TIF district.

For each new commercial property, the RDC would set a baseline assessment and any tax amount above that would go to the RDC to be used for structural improvements such as utilities and roadways.

Other County Council members Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, and Jim Biggs, R-1st, were concerned that the revenue is collected by the RDC and not the County Council, the county’s fiscal body. This could potentially cause a conflict if the RDC is sitting on a surplus while the Council is faced with depleted funds, they said.

Graham said a big concern for her is the fact that the RDC is an appointed board, not elected, yet has the ability to tax. As the current statute dictates, the Council is allowed two appointments while the County Commissioners have three appointments. RDCs also need to appoint a local school board member as a non-voting member.

Biggs said he thinks the County Council should be one of the checks and balances in the formation of the TIF district and that the Council should have some say over how the money is spent.

“We need to be a part in the chain of decisions and currently we are not,” he said.

Graham said if a TIF district is put around the hospital, the hospital should be left out of the allocation area out of respect for the Council’s agreement with Porter hospital on the abatements.

“I think the Redevelopment Commission should honor that,” she said.

One of the Council’s appointments on the RDC, Polarek asked at the meeting last week for the hospital and its property to be left out of the TIF boundaries the commission is currently mulling.

A committee made up of RDC members Shepherd, Dave Burrus, and County Planner Robert Thompson presented a map at the RDC meeting with proposed boundaries at Meridian Road and CR 900N at the northwest, Calumet Ave. and CR 900N to the northeast, Calumet Ave. and CR 750N as the southeast corner, and all of Sunset Hill Farm County Park would be the southwest boundary.

South County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney sat in on the discussions and told the Tribune she thinks TIFs “can be an important tool for attracting businesses and infrastructure” but she understands the concerns others have about TIFs, such as taking taxes away from the school districts and taxing units.

“If your residents end up with a big tax load, you just shoot yourself in the foot. TIFs must be done very carefully,” Blaney said.

County Commissioner President John Evans has said he supports the formation of TIFs if they are able to produce returns on investment. He also has mentioned that if a district is formed, the County would use pass-throughs for schools to get their tax funding.

Polarek mentioned that County Auditor Bob Wichlinski will soon make available reports that show how taxing units in different areas of the county would be impacted by a TIF district.

Aside from the hospital, the RDC has mentioned the commercial areas surrounding the County Municipal Airport as another possible TIF district.

 

Posted 1/24/2013