Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Biggs urges closer look at hospital agreement with Sanders Trust

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

In light of new findings surfacing about the abatement Porter County gave to Porter Regional Hospital, County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, is saying the information gathered so far is “riddled with contradictions” and deserves much closer scrutiny.

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, brought up at a meeting last week that the hospital had told the Council three years ago that they did not own the approximate 60,000 sq. ft. medical office building connected to the hospital at the corner of U.S. 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty Twp.

The reported owner of the building is The Sanders Trust of Birmingham, Ala., but Biggs said he cannot find a tax record sheet in the Assessor’s or Auditor’s office belonging to TST. The only entity that has paid taxes on the property according to County records is Porter Regional Hospital, LLC, he said.

County Assessor Jon Snyder said for the record he does not have any document on file that suggests anyone owns the office building other than the hospital. A building permit he has indicates Porter Hospital LLC is the property owner. Snyder declined to give any further comment since the permits are a subject in an investigation by the FBI.

Biggs said the original building permits for the hospital and the medical office building have been reportedly missing from the County Plan Commission office.

TST has said they retain the majority of the building’s ownership with a syndicate of other investors, most of them being physicians.

County Auditor Robert Wichlinski said that taxes ultimately are owed by the property owner, even in the case of a triple net lease. He said the hospital does own the land that the building sits on.

“Any paperwork I’ve had from the assessor has always had the hospital’s name on it,” said Wichlinski.

Biggs asserts there is a “degree of clandestineness” on the hospital’s part in not giving full details at the Council’s Feb. 27 meeting about the arrangement it has with TST and the fact that Snyder has not been given access to the building.

“I’m as confused as anyone else about this. We’re talking an abatement worth millions of dollars and I will continue to ask questions for the purpose of receiving answers,” Biggs said.

The hospital’s attorney for the abatement, Brian Hittinger ,told the Council at the Feb. 27 meeting that he believes the abatement resolution applies to a “geographical footprint” that the medical office building may or may not be a part of.

Biggs reiterated his opinion that the building should not be included in the abatement and that for both the County and the hospital to benefit, open communication is essential.

“We have responsibilities here. Before we go off and make the decision that involves millions of dollars, we owe it to ourselves and the people we work for to ask those tough questions,” he said.

Whitten: Building not an issue

Meanwhile, Whitten said that TST officials have told the media they are not part of the abatement so the building is not an issue in his mind.

Whitten had asked Council attorney Scott McClure after the Feb. 27 meeting to give an opinion on whether the office building is to be included in the abatement, but said he now knows from the July 26, 2011 meeting minutes that hospital representatives stated on record the building is not part of the abatement.

No matter who owns the building, Whitten said he is glad it is there so that taxes can be paid on it and reduce the overall tax rate for county residents.

The bigger issue the Council needs to focus on is when the abatement for the hospital was to have begun, Whitten said. He also wants to “clean up” the matter with the property assessment because according to the resolution the 430,000 sq. ft. hospital building is to have a $130 million or higher assessment.

“Regardless of politics, elections, let’s look at our task. Our task is to make sure the hospital is in compliance of the abatement and to figure out the best way to invest the sale proceeds. We don’t have to agree with the whole sheet of music but let’s agree that this is our goal and be goal-oriented,” Whitten said.

Council Vice-President Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she hopes that each of the current Council members hold to the commitment of the members who granted the tax abatement unanimously in 2009 while also asking that the hospital holds up its end of the bargain.

“I’m all for the hospital. It is going to bring tremendous economic development to that (U.S. 6) corridor,” Conover said. “But it’s kind of a sticky situation. You can’t turn around and say your facility is worth only $39 million and also be granted a tax abatement on the presentation that was given to us in 2009.”

 

 

Posted 3/17/2014