Porter County officials wrangle over hospital assessment
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent February 28, 2014 3:12PM
Updated: April 3, 2014 6:47AM
VALPARAISO — When a 10-year tax abatement should begin for Porter Regional Hospital is still up for discussion, as is how much of the property should be included and what the hospital’s assessed valuation is.
The Porter County Council tackled the matter Thursday, but didn’t get very far because the unknowns far outweigh what is known.
County attorney Scott McClure, Assessor Jon Snyder, Auditor Bob Wichlinski and an attorney for the hospital agreed to hash out some of the details and come back to the council.
Details still to be worked out include whether a 62,000-square-foot building adjacent to the hospital but owned by a trust is included in the abatement, and when the abatement should begin, since hospital officials haven’t filed the necessary paperwork to get it started.
“That’s really the issue that may be gumming this all up,” McClure said.
Snyder called the hospital’s assessment “a moving target,” which isn’t helping the matter.
The hospital’s assessment for 2012 has been appealed to the Indiana Board of Tax Review, and Snyder said a decision by that board could take six months. Snyder had set the hospital’s value at $34 million. Hospital officials appealed that decision, at which point the local board of appeals determined that the hospital’s value should have been $117 million as of March 1, 2012.
The hospital also appealed its 2013 assessment; Snyder said it’s $244.5 million, far greater than the $39 million hospital officials claim.
Still, the facility has more than met the terms set out for the abatement, said attorney Brian Hittinger, representing the hospital. The hospital added 223 full-time employees, more than the 126 required; brought in additional salaries worth more than $15 million, more than double what was called for; and spent $4 million more on technology than the $20 million agreed upon.
“Clearly, from an economic standpoint, we have far exceeded their estimates,” Hittinger said of the hospital, at Indiana 49 and U.S. 6, which opened in late August 2012. “The confusion lies not in compliance, but in the assessments taking place.”
The process has been difficult to figure out, said Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st District, and what was a good relationship has now turned into court appeals.
“I think we’ve been a great partner,” he said.
But Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-Large, said a higher assessed value is a good thing for taxpayers, and the hospital has gone above what was promised in a lot of areas.
If the hospital doesn’t become a tax increment finance district, which has been considered, the county will see tax benefits from the development, he said.
“From a budgetary standpoint, and maybe it’s going to work its way through the appeals, we need to know what year the abatement started,” he said. “We’re talking about a lot of money here.”