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County RDC accepts preliminary draft for TIF at US 6, initiates impact study

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Now that the Porter County Board of Commissioners has hired a financial advisor to help determine the best way to move forward with creating tax increment financing districts, the County Redevelopment Commission Thursday asked Cender and Company to deliver an impact study.

Dan Botich, director at Cender and Company, said he expects to have the analysis ready to present at the RDC’s April 18 meeting. The study will look at the commission’s preliminary TIF boundaries around the U.S. 6 corridor in Liberty Twp. from Ind. 149 to a few yards past North Calumet Avenue (Old 49).

The area is wider between Meridian Road and Calumet Ave., from CR 900 North to the north and sections of CR 700 N to the south.

The area includes the new Porter Regional Hospital and its 104-acre property which has sparked opposition from a few County Council members who believe “TIF-ing” the $210 million facility would deplete tax benefits promised to the county.

All five commission members agreed to move forward with the preliminary draft but a few of them and non-voting advisor Ralph Ayres said they would like the Duneland School Corporation to be carved out.

RDC members Jim Polarek, President Ric Frataccia, and newly sworn-in member Sylvia Graham, who replaced Jeremy Rivas as a County Council appointment, said they wish not to see any of the schools or local taxing units in that area shorted on their share of revenue.

Frataccia, who is Superintendent of Portage Schools, told the Tribune the intention of the new RDC when it was created last summer was to leave the Duneland Schools out of the TIF and if somehow the schools are ever negatively impacted by the TIF, he would resign.

Frataccia said there have been problems in his own school district with the Portage High School located in a TIF that does not have carve-outs or pass-throughs.

He said he has asked Portage City officials to change it so the school will be carved out.

Frataccia said the creation of the U.S. 6 TIF allocation area will not be “altogether different” from how cities and towns create their TIFs but parcels are likely to be cut out before the commission approves a final version. Before a TIF can be established it also needs to have approval from the County Plan Commission and the County Commissioners which would both have public hearings.

Botich said the Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission gives money back to the East Porter County School Corporation by way of grants from its TIF that spills over into Washington Twp.

It had been suggested at the previous RDC meeting by Doug Olson of SEH that Duneland Schools could be granted money, possibly to its general fund which pays for teachers and programs.

Ayres invited Duneland School board members and officials to Thursday’s meeting.

In attendance was Duneland Schools Superintendent Dirk Baer.

Ayres said a TIF in the U.S. 6 corridor can be useful in improving safety and the flow of additional traffic with the opening of the new hospital.

Redevelopment commissions collect revenue from new commercial properties, not residential, for the purpose of improving infrastructure. One of the projects the County RDC wants to do, Ayres said, is to put in a stoplight at the intersection of Meridian Road and CR 700 North which has been cited by Duneland School Board member Ronald Stone as one of the County’s worst hotspots for accidents.

Graham said officials need to be cautious with TIFs because assessed values in the county are being depressed by the state’s tax caps and the County Council would like to see taxing units get the funding they need. She said she doesn’t want to see TIFs force the county into creating any new income tax.

She said Porter Regional Hospital should be cut out because it currently has a ten-year tax abatement granted by the County Council.

As the abatement continues to drop off, the tax revenue could go to the RDC, Botich said.

Polarek, who also wants to exclude the hospital, gave concern that he does not want township governments and volunteer fire districts to be shorted on funding.

Frataccia told those sitting in the audience that TIFs in unincorporated Porter County cannot be created by any governing body other than the RDC.

“We are going to see that we put (the TIF) together according to statute,” he said.

He added that the role of the RDC is “to keep an eye on economic development” and he expects many questions will be addressed at the April 18 meeting when the study is completed.

“We expect to see a full house,” Frataccia said.

Ayres said he has received several phone calls already from concerned citizens.

“People are beginning to talk about it,” he said. He recommended that anyone with concerns contact someone on the redevelopment commission.

The other members are John Shepherd and Dave Burrus.

Botich said the study will report on a number of items including what kinds of revenue can be collected with the implementation of an allocation area, what sorts of economic development can take place, identifying what kinds of tax rates there could be, identifying the formulas related to assessed values, and how tax abatements would operate.

The County Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday hired Cender and Company of Merrillville on a contract not to exceed $10,000 per year for financial advisement and also approved a not to exceed $16,000 per year contract with attorney Gregory A. Sobkowski of Hodges and Davis law firm.

Also in attendance at the meeting were County Commissioners John Evans, R-North, and Laura Blaney, D-South, as were County Auditor Robert Wichlinski and County Treasurer Mike Bucko.

 

 

Posted 2/22/2013