Chesterton Tribune



Symphony nursing home is appealing assessment; town to challenge

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Only three years after opening its doors, the Symphony of Chesterton--a 106-bed assisted-living and skilled-nursing senior residential facility on Village Point in Coffee Creek Center--has filed an appeal with the Porter County Assessor’s Office, seeking to reduce the office’s most recent assessed valuation of the property by fully 30 percent: from $7,993,900 to $5,600,000.

It’s doing so--according to an appraisal dated Jan. 1, 2017, only one year after the Symphony opened for business--on the ground of “economic obsolescence.” More specifically, Symphony is claiming that the property, with an occupancy rate of 68 percent two years ago, is “generating insufficient cash flow to support the underlying estate.”

So Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder reported to the Chesterton Redevelopment Commission at its meeting Tuesday night. “The property is located in one of the town’s TIF districts, and that reduction would impact the Redevelopment Commission’s tax increment financing revenues,” Snyder noted. He then asked members whether they would be interested in sharing with his office the cost of obtaining a detailed counter-appraisal of the Symphony property.

“We believe we’re in a good position” to challenge the Symphony’s appraisal, Snyder told members, and for several reasons. For one thing, his office’s most recent AV of the property is much closer to its estimated value on the building permit issued by the town in 2015: around $10.25 million.

For another thing, Symphony recently filed appeals with the Lake County Assessor’s Office for its two nursing homes located there, in Crown Point and Dyer. “We’ve seen a similar trend with the Symphony owners appealing in Lake County,” Snyder said. In both cases the Lake County Assessor’s Office reached a settlement with Symphony.

Symphony owns 21 other nursing homes in Illinois, according to its website. The Tribune was unable immediately to find any on-line records of AV appeals which the business might have filed for those properties.

Members, concerned by the hit which a successful appeal would have on the commission’s annual revenue stream, voted unanimously to pay for 50 percent of the cost of a counter-appraisal, not to exceed $10,000. They did ask Snyder whether he’s obtained the services yet of a suitable appraiser. Snyder said that he has not, although he’s contacted several. “Some are conflicted. Some aren’t interested. Some are too busy. And we really need to make sure our appraiser has dotted all the is and crossed all the ts, because it will be contested.”

Snyder has one more thing to do as well: obtain authorization from the Porter County Council for the expense of a counter-appraisal, as his office doesn’t have a line item in its budget for one.

The commission’s newest member, Lynda Schobert, did volunteer that it’s occurred to her, on driving by the Symphony, that “it doesn’t seem very busy, just cursorily,” then added, “I want to see them succeed.”

“I understand that,” Snyder replied. “But the county is not responsible for the economic situation at that facility. We have to assess all properties equally, fairly. That’s not something that the Assessor would consider in the appeal.”

Member Emerson DeLaney concurred with Snyder. “We want them to succeed,” he said. “We do. We really do. But if you want to come to Chesterton, you have to pay your fair share.”

Member Jeff Trout, for his part, expressed a certain puzzlement. Symphony, he remarked, never formally sought a tax abatement, as the Addison Pointe Health & Rehabilitation Center on Dickinson Road did, precisely because--as Addison Pointe reps said at the time--it can take many months before a nursing home achieves a sustained and sustainable occupancy rate. “It just seems a little surprising,” Trout said. “If you had that concern, you should have come before the town and asked for an abatement.”

Schobert did wonder whether an AV appeal in the end tends to come down to a “he said/she said” situation. Snyder confirmed that such appeals often do. “But the Assessor’s Office makes the best case it can and nine times out of 10 we prevail at the local level,” he said.

The Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals would be the first body to hear the Symphony’s appeal. Should the Symphony lose its appeal, it could then go before the Indiana Board of Tax Review.

Meanwhile, Town Attorney Chuck Lukmann told the Chesterton Tribune that he and Clerk-Treasurer Stephanie Kuziela have discussed the Symphony’s appeal with Snyder, and agree with him that a 30-percent reduction of the AV is in no way warranted. “We’re going to investigate a seriously flawed appraisal,” he said. On the subject of Symphony’s two appeals in Lake County, Lukmann added, “They show a pattern of a company trying not to pay its fair share of taxes.”

Lukmann’s partner at Harris, Welsh & Lukmann, attorney Mike Harris, noted that the 68-percent occupancy rate cited in the 2017 appraisal--again, made one year after the facility opened--says absolutely nothing about the facility’s current occupancy rate. “There are 106 beds at Symphony,” Harris said. “You don’t have 106 beds slept in on Day 1 or on Day 101 or on Day 401.”

Re: 950N

In other business, Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg asked members to consider entering into a partnership with the Porter County Highway Department, under which the Highway Department would provide the equipment and the town would use TIF funds to purchase the material, for a chip-and-seal job on the town’s quarter-mile stretch of 950N.

Schnadenberg noted that the Highway Department is planning to chip-and-seal its own stretch of C.R. 950N east of Meridian Road, and that the town could save a great deal of money in the deal. “Chip-and-seal probably costs half as much as the $20,000 to $25,000 it would cost to re-asphalt the road,” he said. “And the chip-and-seal would probably last 10 years.”

Members said that they would consider the joint project at their next meeting, a special one scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 10.

Re: Fiber Optic

Speaking from the floor, Tom Carroll of NITCO told the commission that crews have been working hard the last couple of weeks, chiefly along South Calumet Road, connecting new business customers to the town’s fiber optic network. “Sixty-three customers have signed up,” he said, “and we have 13 proposals to other possible customers being reviewed.”

Town Engineer Mark O’Dell, for his part, said that the town is still working with Amtrak to secure permits for directional boring under its right-of-way to connect Yost Elementary School to the network. Most recently, a dozen soil borings were conducted as part of the permitting process.



Posted 5/30/2019




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