Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Biggs wants office building taken out of hospital tax abatement

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

One week after the Porter County Council began establishing the terms of the 10-year tax abatement for Porter Regional Hospital, County Council Member Jim Biggs, R-1st, raised specific questions about the actual owner of the approximately 60,000-square foot medical office building on the property.

The building sits southwest of the hospital, located at U.S. Highway 6 and Ind. 49 in Liberty Township.

At last Thursday’s Council meeting, Porter Chief Financial Officer Cheryl Harmon and hospital attorney Brian Hittinger were both unable to say who exactly owns that building, although Hittinger did say that it’s owned by a trust.

Council Attorney Scott McClure is currently formulating a legal opinion as to whether that building should be included in the abatement.

Meanwhile--on the grounds that the county should not grant an abatement to a company its never met--Biggs said at a press conference on Tuesday that he’s conducted his own research. The owner of the building, he has determined: Sanders Realty Trust (TST) of Birmingham, Ala., which he said he discovered after finding an article featured on the website of one of the general contractors for the hospital’s construction.

That article, Biggs said, puts the office building’s worth at $12 million and states that several departments and physician offices for Porter Health are housed there.

TST, for its part, also released a press statement in August 2011 which ran in the Chesterton Tribune. In that statement TST said that the firm completed a “successful syndication” with Porter Health and through it TST would retain majority ownership of the building to benefit both it and hospital physicians.

Biggs on Tuesday expressed surprise that the arrangement with TST was never discussed when the County Council granted the abatement to the hospital. Biggs also said that he’s been unable to find any document authorizing the hospital to pass on the abatement’s benefits to another building which it neither owns nor operates. “I find it nearly impossible that no one in County Government knew about this,” he said.

Biggs furthermore showed the press a copy of the building permit for the structure in question, issued in September 2011, which lists Porter Hospital LLC as the property owner.

And, Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder said, there is no property record card for TST. The hospital and its improvements are all included on a single record card belonging to Porter Hospital LLC, although that card does show the office and the hospital as two separate buildings, he said.

The hospital was assessed at $244.5 million in 2013, which included the land and the office building, Snyder said. But in conducting the assessment, Snyder said that he wasn’t allowed access to the office building.

Biggs told the Chesterton Tribune that the office building should not be part of the hospital abatement unless TST follows the same application and review process as the hospital did, and that any abatement granted to the hospital be based on the building’s own economic merits.

Biggs said that he would ask the hospital to “drop the veil” and have an open discussion about the office building.

Holding off agreements on the hospital’s tax revenues is costing both parties time and money, Biggs said, as well as the overlapping taxing units dependent on receiving those tax revenues, such as the Duneland School Corporation. “To display this clandestineness over the assessment is not doing any good to any of us,” he said.

County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, told the Chesterton Tribune he holds a more optimistic view and praised the hospital for “going above and beyond” its economic-development commitments.

Whitten echoed Hittinger’s claims that Porter Regional Hospital has hired 213 new staff whose $15 million salaries are pumping money into the local economy. Hittinger also reported more construction workers were used than anticipated, which Whitten lauded. “To whoever owns that building, I want to thank you for building it and creating trade union jobs in our county,” Whitten said.

Whitten said he would agree that TST would need to apply for its own abatement but is waiting to hear McClure’s opinion.

Biggs said he agrees having the new hospital “is an absolute positive benefit to Porter County,” but wishes it would give Snyder access to what he needs in order to come up with the right tax value.

“County government is not going anywhere so they are going to have to talk to us,” Biggs said.

 

Posted 3/5/3014