Auditor prepared to enact millions in hospital tax breaks

2013-11-09T18:00:00Z 2014-01-07T20:28:10Z Auditor prepared to enact millions in hospital tax breaksBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
November 09, 2013 6:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski said he intends to end the debate over when to start the tax abatement for the new Porter Regional Hospital by applying the tax breaks on next year's bill unless otherwise instructed by the County Council.

Wichlinski said the timing makes the most sense because it reflects the first full $244.5 million assessment of the new hospital at the northwest corner of Ind. 49 and U.S. 6.

The prior assessment of $34.2 million represented the hospital when it was 90 percent complete and unopened.

The County Council granted the tax abatement in 2009, but there has been debate over when to start the 10 years of tax breaks that diminish by 10 percent each year and who is to make that decision.

If the abatement is initiated earlier than next year's tax bill, the hospital will wind up paying more because the savings would start when the site had a smaller value and thus a smaller tax bill.

While some council members believe it has been up the auditor to decide when to initiate the abatement, Wichlinski said the estimated $12.4 million in tax breaks on the building and equipment are a deal between the council and the taxpayer.

"Any attempt to make the auditor responsible for this mess is shamefully misguided," he said in a written statement.

Officials at Porter Regional Hospital declined comment Friday on the issue.

It is unclear whether the County Council will accept Wichlinski's decision or direct him to take another approach.

Council President Bob Poparad, D-at-large, said the council's role is to approve or deny abatements, and review them annually, while leaving the application up to the auditor.

Poparad said he has no intention to vary from that approach in this instance.

Council Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd, said she had no problem with Wichlinski's decision as long as he did not include the new hospital in the county's overall assessed value.

If the value was included and is now removed because of the abatement, it will short-change the revenue needed for next year's budget, she said.

Wichlinski said the only assessed value applied for the hospital is a small amount for the land.

"The net effect is negligible," he said.

Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he feels the council should further discuss the start time for the abatement considering the group just approved a 2014 budget that relies on savings.

He also has questions, such as why hospital officials appeared before the council for an annual compliance hearing on the abatement in 2011 if the deal had not yet taken effect.

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