Cheers for tax increment financing districts have been heard far and wide
throughout the county but it was only jeers Tuesday at the Porter County
A flood of arguments against TIF districts started after Council member Jim
Polarek, R-4th, mentioned a bill has been proposed in the Indiana Senate by
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R- Noblesville, which proposes a redevelopment
commission (RDC) not be allowed to pay out funds collected from TIF
districts without authorization from the legislative body that created the
Council member Dan Whitten, D-at large, echoed a past argument he made last
June opposing the placement of a TIF district on the Porter Regional
Hospital property on U.S. 6 near the Ind. 49 intersection. According to
Whitten, the TIF would take away tax money generated that was promised to
benefit the homeowners of Porter County from the $210 million hospital.
The Council, Whitten said, invested in the hospital by way of a structured
tax abatement that over time the revenue generated would outweigh the cost
of the abatement. He also advised against putting a TIF district on the
surrounding businesses as the County will be reliant on new commercial
properties and development to get the county’s declining assessed values to
bounce back to keep the budgets from going into the red.
“When we look at these budgets, we are dependent on commercial growth,” said
Whitten. “If we don’t have that, we are going to be pushing this county into
another income tax.”
As it has been explained by County RDC member John Shepherd, the RDC would
set boundaries for an allocation area, which would be brought to the county
plan commission which would make changes or pass along a recommendation to
the County Commissioners. The County Commissioners would ultimately be the
body to authorize the TIF district.
For each new commercial property, the RDC would set a baseline assessment
and any tax amount above that would go to the RDC to be used for structural
improvements such as utilities and roadways.
Other County Council members Sylvia Graham, D-At Large, and Jim Biggs,
R-1st, were concerned that the revenue is collected by the RDC and not the
County Council, the county’s fiscal body. This could potentially cause a
conflict if the RDC is sitting on a surplus while the Council is faced with
depleted funds, they said.
Graham said a big concern for her is the fact that the RDC is an appointed
board, not elected, yet has the ability to tax. As the current statute
dictates, the Council is allowed two appointments while the County
Commissioners have three appointments. RDCs also need to appoint a local
school board member as a non-voting member.
Biggs said he thinks the County Council should be one of the checks and
balances in the formation of the TIF district and that the Council should
have some say over how the money is spent.
“We need to be a part in the chain of decisions and currently we are not,”
Graham said if a TIF district is put around the hospital, the hospital
should be left out of the allocation area out of respect for the Council’s
agreement with Porter hospital on the abatements.
“I think the Redevelopment Commission should honor that,” she said.
One of the Council’s appointments on the RDC, Polarek asked at the meeting
last week for the hospital and its property to be left out of the TIF
boundaries the commission is currently mulling.
A committee made up of RDC members Shepherd, Dave Burrus, and County Planner
Robert Thompson presented a map at the RDC meeting with proposed boundaries
at Meridian Road and CR 900N at the northwest, Calumet Ave. and CR 900N to
the northeast, Calumet Ave. and CR 750N as the southeast corner, and all of
Sunset Hill Farm County Park would be the southwest boundary.
South County Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney sat in on the discussions and
told the Tribune she thinks TIFs “can be an important tool for
attracting businesses and infrastructure” but she understands the concerns
others have about TIFs, such as taking taxes away from the school districts
and taxing units.
“If your residents end up with a big tax load, you just shoot yourself in
the foot. TIFs must be done very carefully,” Blaney said.
County Commissioner President John Evans has said he supports the formation
of TIFs if they are able to produce returns on investment. He also has
mentioned that if a district is formed, the County would use pass-throughs
for schools to get their tax funding.
Polarek mentioned that County Auditor Bob Wichlinski will soon make
available reports that show how taxing units in different areas of the
county would be impacted by a TIF district.
Aside from the hospital, the RDC has mentioned the commercial areas
surrounding the County Municipal Airport as another possible TIF district.