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Porter County officials at odds over value of special tax districts

Updated: May 22, 2013 7:09AM



In a strongly worded email to fellow members of the Porter County Council, Councilman Dan Whitten, D-At-large, said Friday that a proposed tax increment financing district in Liberty Township “is nothing more than a money grab” that will take much-needed revenue from the county.

While some other council members agree, the sentiment is not universal among county officials. Board of Commissioners President John Evans, R-North, is in favor of the districts, which may be key if the Liberty Township district comes up for a vote because while the council won’t vote on whether to approve the district, the commissioners will.

“I think if you’re going to develop an area, it’s the best vehicle to do that,” Evans said, adding money collected by the district will provide infrastructure and other improvements for new businesses.

Whitten’s email came the day after a Porter County Redevelopment Commission meeting, when the commission voted 5-2 to move forward with an economic development plan for the district, a preliminary step in putting the TIF district in place.

The two no votes came from Porter County Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-At-large, and Councilman Jim Polarek, R-4th District.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-At-large, also said he is against TIF districts because they capture rising assessed valuations from all the other taxing units within the district. Councilwoman Karen Conover, R-3rd District, meanwhile, sees the advantage of them as a way to encourage development.

The district includes the new Porter Regional Hospital, at U.S. 6 and Indiana 49. The hospital received a 10-year tax abatement from the council in 2009 but as the abatement diminishes over time, that tax revenue would be captured in the TIF district.

When the council granted the tax abatement, Whitten wrote, they agreed it was an investment in that corridor and the hospital would invite new growth, which would allow the county to recoup the abatement.

“I strongly believe that … TIFing any of that corridor is going back on the deal. We will have essentially snatched the money from the taxpayers twice,” he wrote, calling the TIF “a back-door tax.”

Evans said the districts are not back-door taxes because the tax rates stay the same and while school corporations normally suffer in TIF districts, redevelopment commission members have said from the outset that would not be the case.

“Have TIFs been overdone in some areas? Yeah, but that’s not the case in the county,” Evans said, adding another area for a TIF district could be around Porter County Regional Airport.



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