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Commissioners agree to local match for RDA grant to revitalize Town of Pines

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A little push from the Porter County Board of Commissioners may go a long way for the wee town of Pines, pop. 670.

On Wednesday, Commissioners John Evans, R-North, and Nancy Adams, R-Center, said yes to doling out $40,000, which will serve as a 20 percent match for a $200,000 community grant from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.

Director of Government Affairs with SEH Inc. Doug Olson said the RDA gives out $1 million annually to cities and towns in Northwest Indiana with five $200,000 grants. The town, Olson said, has seen problems with its utilities and infrastructure and those are just some things named on a list of items in need of improvement. Other potential projects include park development and planting of native plant species.

Town officials plan to draw up a comprehensive plan detailing enhancements that could be undertaken in sub-areas like the Ind. 520 and U.S. 20 corridors according to a statement written by Town Council member George Adey, which Evans read aloud. Adey said the town’s General Budget is a little more than $150,000 and there is not much wiggle room for redevelopment.

Olson added the town intends to use the grant money to apply for additional funding or form partnerships to gain more matching funds.

Evans said he supports the custom of helping local municipalities on endeavors such as this, as long as the County has the financial ability to do so.

Olson recommended forming a Memorandum of Understanding between the town and the Commissioners over the match for the grant.

Appraiser hired for hospital site

Hoping to avoid a lengthy appeal process, which has been the case in recent years, County Assessor Jon Snyder is taking the initiative to get a better idea of what the valuation for the new Porter Regional Hospital should be.

The Commissioners agreed to pay half of a $25,000 contract for Jack Poteet of Hospital Appraisal Services LLC to put a dollar figure on the 430,000 square-foot facility and all its associated property owned by Porter Health Care System.

Snyder said when he took office two years ago, the county had appeals from the hospital going back to 2006. The Property Tax Board of Appeals ended up giving the hospital a refund of $1.2 million last year.

The process also incurred administrative costs and took time away from getting to the other appeals the County had stacked up.

Should the hospital appeal again, the appraisal will give the PTABOA better footing in reviewing the case and it can be processed more quickly, which would save taxpayers a bit of money.

“It’s a great benefit for us to be caught up and be proactive,” Snyder said.

A complete assessment of the hospital has not been done yet, Snyder added, because the facility was not finished by March 1 this year, the yearly date when assessments are due. Synder said hospitals are unique properties and it is difficult for his office to make an assessment on their own. It is comparable to the steel mill assessments which are now handled by the state, he said.

Snyder hopes the assessment will be completed by the next assessment due date so it can go on the tax rolls. The hospital is located in unincorporated Liberty Twp.

Porter Health marketing director and spokeswoman Karen Keltner this morning said the hospital does not have any comment regarding the appraisal since it is being handled entirely by the county.

Website revamp

The Porter County website is static, complained Sharon Lippens. And being the county’s IT director and chief operator of the site, she would know.

“It doesn’t change very often,” she said.

But Lippens is ready to invert that and make the site an interactive portal for residents to use. As many department heads have expressed when they talk about moving to an e-Government environment, county residents would have the ability to access what they need online without having to physically drive to the County Administration Center, Lippens said. “It opens a wealth of information for the citizens.”

As it exists, site users can pay their tax bills online, look up parcel information, and access forms and documents from different departments. But even in 2012, people are expecting a more “detail-oriented” site, Lippens said. They expect websites to be less static and, Lippens added, there is more of a demand to access web portals by smart phones and an iPhone app is in the works.

A committee consisting of Lippens, Commissioner Adams and County Recorder Jon Miller researched companies specializing in creating websites for local governments so there will not be start-up costs and recommended CivicPlus of Manhattan, Kansas, for the upgrades, at a cost of $75,604.

Evans and Adams approved the contract. Absent from the meeting was County Commissioner Carole Knoblock, D-South.

Lippens said she isn’t “trying to reinvent the wheel” but a vision for the site will be to let the visitor choose what pages to access like the treasurer’s office or the parks department, for example. Department heads will also be able to make changes to webpages on their own from a remote location, Lippens said.

The IT department will also enhance the County’s presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Plan Commission sets fees

Meanwhile, Plan Commission Executive Director Robert Thompson gave the Commissioners an updated ordinance listing building fees to be assessed by the department. Thompson said none of the fees increased and some actually decreased this year because they were previously too high.

For example, the fee for outdoor advertising structures on non-residential properties was reduced from $1,250 to $300. Fees for minor subdivision replats under the development review committee will be $500 all together, for primary and secondary plats, rather than charging $500 for each.

Single-family Residential and Two-Family New Construction and Addition permit fees will remain at $250 for a base fee and $0.15 for each additional square foot.

Permit fees for accessory buildings will range from $100 for 80 to 1,300 square-foot structures, to $200 for those larger than 2,400 square feet.

New construction and addition permits for commercial and other non-residential properties will be charged a base fee of $300 plus $0.20 per square foot, with a maximum of $10,000 for ground floor and $5,000 maximum for every floor above or below ground level.

The commissioners approved a first reading for the ordinance and scheduled the second reading for Nov. 20. Evans commended Thompson for rectifying the fees.

In other business:

• The commissioners approved the purchase of two vehicles made by the County Sheriff’s Department. A Ford Suburban worth $23,789 was approved as well as a Ford Econoline priced at $25,166 which will be used by the County Coroner’s office.

• Bids were also received for new medical staff at the Porter County Jail. The commissioners said they expect to award a bid at their Nov. 20 meeting. Sheriff David Lain said he hopes to have the hires made at the start of the new year.

 

Posted 11/8/2012