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County RDC hopes to protect schools from TIFs in new resolution

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

When the Porter County Redevelopment Commission formed in the summer of 2012, the Commission members were adamant about one thing -- that any tax increment finance (TIF) area implemented within the unincorporated areas of the county should not negatively impact school districts.

They decided take this principle a step further Thursday, asking their legal adviser Gregg Sobkowski to draft a resolution that would essentially state that money collected by the Redevelopment Commission in a TIF area would be passed through to schools equal to what their allocation would have been had there not been a TIF implemented in the first place.

“We need to get that in writing, 100 percent, that it can’t be changed year per year,” said Commission member Jim Polarek, who hopes the resolution will become a permanent standard for future County RDC members.

Sobkowski said he will attempt the task, but told the board he will need to adhere to Indiana state code regarding redevelopment commissions.

There are at least two ways Sobkowski is aware of that RDCs can aid school districts using TIF money. RDCs can fund economic development projects directly for school improvements or give 15 percent of captured tax increment funds to schools that teach job skills.

But Sobkowski said he would have to look into the possibility of money being passed directly through to the schools,

The potential resolution was part of a discussion centered on whether a TIF allocation area should be created around the Porter County Regional Airport in Washington Twp. and how it would affect the East Porter County Schools District.

Rod Gardin, superintendent for East Porter County Schools, and EPCS board member Bob Martin said their district is impacted by a TIF area imposed by the City of Valparaiso at Porter Vale shopping center where the district overlaps with city property. The TIF now has a pass-through but Gardin said his district is granted just 40 percent of the tax increment and he is opposed to the prospect of an additional TIF district because of “detrimental effects.”

But RDC President E. Ric Frattacia, who is also superintendent of the Portage Schools District, told Gardin that he and his colleagues also strongly oppose shorting schools of any tax revenue, which they have expressed often since their inaugural meeting. He said they would be “going against their charter” if a TIF was imposed without protective measures for schools in place.

“That’s public record,” Frattacia said. “I don’t think it’s our intent to make enemies. Our intent is to have economic development so people have work. The intent is not to harm the schools.”

Frattacia suggested the Commission work together with school officials as they consider the airport TIF and come up with ways that both sides can benefit. He said the declaratory resolution will be “much different” than other redevelopment commissions and asked Sobkowski to incorporate Gardin’s suggestions.

Commission members Polarek and Dave Burrus talked about the possibility of adding another ex-officio member to the board from East Porter County Schools, in addition to its non-voting advisor and Duneland School Board member Ralph Ayres. If that is not possible, they will try appointing a liaison.

Airport development plan

Also during the meeting, the Commission received an economic development plan on the airport from its financial advisor Dan Botich of Cender and Company that would encompass 2.6 square miles, from U.S. 30 to the south and Ind. 2 to the north and east of the Ind. 49 corridor.

Most of the land there is zoned for light industrial with some commercial, Botich said, and the economic development plan identified projects totaling $48.7 million that could be funded with the money collected in the redevelopment area.

Botich said one of the goals is developing shovel-ready sites for “white collar jobs” and jobs related to the airport. Other goals are to discourage strip developments and preserve open spaces wherever possible.

Polarek said the City of Valparaiso is beginning to annex properties in the area and just this month added a triangular area between County Roads 325 E and 400 E. south of U.S. 30 of about 55 acres that is owned by Von Tobel Lumber and the city is poised to annex another large site where Pratt Industries will build its new recycling plant south of U.S. 30.

As long as it is unincorporated, the County can set boundaries for a redevelopment zone and can still collect tax increment funds from the allocation area for a time even if some or all of the property is later annexed to a municipality.

Botich said he has spoken with Valparaiso officials who indicated they have no current plans to annex land on the airport property.

The commission asked Botich if he would expand the economic development plan for the airport to include more area south of U.S. 30 including the Porter County Expo Center which is currently being studied by the tourism bureau for upgrades that could be fueled by TIF revenue.

Botich said he expects he can have the new plan ready by the RDC’s next meeting on Nov. 21.

Liberty Twp. TIF tabled still

Thursday’s meeting attracted a small crowd of Liberty Twp. residents, Ed and Vi Gutt and Tim Cole, who waited to hear any updates on the so-called Liberty Twp. Economic Development area surrounding Porter Regional Hospital and Sunset Hill Farm which was shelved last meeting.

Commission member Sylvia Graham said the matter is still tabled and she said had spoken with County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, who agreed that the airport would be a better place to start the County’s first redevelopment area.

 

Posted 9/30/2013