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
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.
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
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,”
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.
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
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.
not an issue
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.
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
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.”