Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, and Vice-president Karen Conover,
R-3rd, are giving officials at Porter Regional Hospital a choice: either
agree that the hospital building structure is worth at least $130 million in
value or give up the property tax abatement.
The two, on behalf
of the Council, sent a letter to Porter Chief Financial Officer Cheryl
Harmon on Friday saying a new issue has arisen in the board’s exploration of
how to apply the 10-year tax abatement that “could be the elephant in the
9-9-10, signed by the Council in 2009, specifically states one of the terms
for the abatement is that the hospital is to build $130 million of
improvements on its site at 85 E. U.S. 6 in Liberty Twp.
On its most recent
assessment appeal, the hospital said it believes its tax value should be $39
million. Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder however has another opinion:
“If the hospital is
correct, in its valuation, then they are in substantial non-compliance with
the real property tax abatement and we, as the Council, may need to consider
revoking the real property tax abatement,” the letter said.
Whitten and Conover
also gave this message: “We cannot have the taxpayers double-hit by having a
tax abatement on a substantially non-compliant property.”
They conclude by
saying they “look forward” to resolving each issue with the hospital in the
quickest possible manner.
Harmon issued word
to the press late Friday afternoon that she had not received the Council’s
letter but does want to work with the County on an agreement.
Whitten told the
Chesterton Tribune Friday he would like to find an arrangement that
benefits both the hospital and the County, but overall “the needs of the
taxpayers come first” in his opinion.
Conover said she
wants the hospital to be successful but its officials need to comply with
the terms spelled out in the resolution in order to receive the abatement.
“We can’t have it
both ways,” she said. “If they want us to honor our commitment, they have to
attorney Brian Hittinger, who is representing the hospital for the
abatement, Porter has met and exceeded the other commitments it agreed to
for the abatement.
resolution indicates that the hospital must hire 126 new full-time employees
whose salaries would total an additional $7.5 million, along with purchasing
at least $20 million in new informational technology equipment.
Hittinger said the
hospital hired 213 new full-time employees in 2013 with a total of $15
million in yearly salaries and spent $24 million on IT equipment purchases.
He also said the hospital hired more construction workers than the estimated
600 construction jobs that were agreed to.
Whitten said the
other three issues he wants to clear up are the time frame as to when the
abatement was to begin, what portions of the hospital property fall under
the abatement, and what is the exact assessment of the hospital.
He said that
Council Attorney Scott McClure is formulating a legal opinion on the issues.