Officials threaten to revoke abatement for Porter County hospital in ongoing assessment battle
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent March 7, 2014 6:10PM
Updated: April 9, 2014 6:15AM
VALPARAISO — Porter Regional Hospital’s ongoing appeals of the facility’s assessed value may backfire, costing the hospital its 10-year tax abatement.
In a strongly worded letter to hospital chief financial officer Cheryl Harmon on Friday, Porter County Council President Dan Whitten, D-At-large, and Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd District, said if the hospital is correct in the assessment it seeks, it will be “in substantial non-compliance” with the tax abatement.
Under the terms of the tax abatement, which the council granted in 2009, the hospital had to build a structure of $130 million or more.
Assessor Jon Snyder has said the value of the hospital in 2013, the first full year it was open, was $244.5 million, but hospital officials are appealing that value with the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals, claiming the hospital is worth $39 million.
If the hospital is correct in its valuation, the letter states, “we, as the Council, may need to consider revoking the real property tax abatement. We cannot have the taxpayers double-hit by having a tax abatement on a substantially non-compliant property.”
Hospital officials released a statement late Friday that they have not yet received the letter, “but certainly want to work with the county.”
While the council also grapples with whether a medical building owned by a trust that’s also on the hospital site, at Ind. 49 and U.S. 6, falls under the abatement, and tries to determine when the abatement should start, Whitten said the most glaring issue — the letter calls it “the white elephant in the room” — is whether the abatement will even still apply.
“I want it to work out. I want it to be successful, but my first obligation is to the taxpayers,” Whitten said. “The president and vice president of the council have an obligation to get an answer to that question and to proceed appropriately.”
Conover agrees that the matter needs to be resolved.
“It’s back to them,” she said. “We’re going to honor our commitment and I’m hopeful they’ll honor theirs. Let’s get rid of the white elephant in the room and move forward.”
The hospital also has appealed its 2012 assessment; after a ruling by the local Property Tax Asssesment Board of Appeals raised that amount from $34 million to $117 million, the hospital appealed to the Indiana Board of Tax Review.
“I’m just grateful for the council’s support,” Snyder said. “Collaboration is always key to the end goal, a fair assessment, and that’s what it’s always been about.”
Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st District, who earlier this week held a news conference stating that the medical building should not be included in the abatement, called the letter “a very intelligent move,” and said the issue needs to be cleared up before moving forward.
“If they feel that building is worth that amount, it goes against everything on why the abatement was granted,” he said.