VALPARAISO | The revamped Porter County Redevelopment Commission has targeted the U.S. 6 corridor near the new hospital as a potential site to test out its new power to create a tax increment finance district.
The first draft of the TIF map includes the new $225 million hospital, but commission members have yet to discuss whether that property and others in the designated area will be removed as part of the final proposal, said commission member John Shepherd.
The preliminary version of the map takes in the U.S. 6 right-of-way east from Ind. 149 to Meridian Road where it drops south to County Road 700 North and widens to include commercial properties farther east along U.S. 6 to Old Calumet Road, he said. It continues north along Old Calumet Road to County Road 900 North and then returns west along 900 North to Meridian and then back south to U.S. 6.
Once the TIF district is identified and approved, any new revenue from commercial development in that area is captured and used exclusively for improvements within the designated allocation area, Shepherd said. Improvements under consideration include a traffic signal at Meridian Road and 700 North.
The potential of a TIF district along the U.S. 6 corridor raised concern again this past week for members of the Porter County Council, who are faced with the challenge of funding county services in a time of shrinking revenues brought on primarily by the state's tax caps and refunds resulting from local tax assessment appeals. The council has two of the five voting seats on the Redevelopment Commission and the county commissioners control three.
"TIFs are a backdoor tax," said Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at large.
He predicted the county will be pushed into implementing a new income tax to pay its bills if it is denied the new revenues of commercial growth along U.S. 6 and elsewhere.
Shepherd said the Redevelopment Commission hopes to meet in March with leadership from jurisdictions that would be affected by the proposed TIF district, including the Duneland School Corp., Liberty Township and county library system.
Redevelopment Commission Member Dave Burrus said the group has decided not to capture the school's share of the revenue.
There are already 11 TIF districts around the county, including six in Valparaiso and one each in Portage, Porter, Chesterton, Burns Harbor and Hebron, said Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski.
Burrus, who has a more positive view of TIFs than Whitten, asked whether taxpayers from across the county should be required to help finance improvements in this designated area along U.S. 6.
He disagreed that the rest of the county will be denied benefits of growth in the TIF district, pointing out the potential for new jobs, higher salaries and increased spending throughout the area.
In response to concerns about redevelopment commissions elsewhere winding up in more debt than they can handle, Burrus said the local commission is taking the precaution of hiring legal and financial advisers.
While the County Council as a whole will not have a say in the decision whether to create a TIF district, unlike the Plan Commission and board of Commissioners, the council will have veto power over any decision by the Redevelopment Commission to borrow money, Shepherd said. The commission can decide to borrow money early on to get a jump on projects before an adequate amount of revenue is collected or it can wait until sufficient funding is generated.
County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, said last week it does not make sense for the county to borrow money when it is sitting on $180 million in proceeds from the sale of the hospital.
A second area of the unincorporated portion of the county that has been flagged as a potential site for a TIF is at the airport in Washington Township, Burrus said.
The Redevelopment Commission will host its next public meeting at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 21 at the county Administration center, 155 Indiana Ave., Valparaiso.