EDITORIAL: Stop squabbling over hospital tax break

2013-11-14T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Stop squabbling over hospital tax break nwitimes.com
November 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski is right to act on the property tax abatement for Porter Regional Hospital, applying the tax break to the first full assessment of the new hospital's cost.

The timing of this tax break has been controversial. There's a lot of money at stake — both for the hospital and for the county.

Wichlinski said applying the tax abatement on next year's bill makes the most sense because that's when the full $244.5 million assessment of the new hospital takes effect.

The prior assessment of $34.2 million represents the property when the hospital was 90 percent complete and not yet opened.

Start the assessment before next year's bill, and the hospital will pay more because the savings would start based on a small value and a smaller property tax bill.

This assessment, including the tax abatement, has been a controversial issue in Porter County.

Hospital officials were bound by contract to build a new hospital, some argue, so why was a property tax abatement needed? The counter argument is that the hospital was bigger than the contract required, so the abatement was appropriate.

Then the county and the hospital argued over the assessment for the new hospital, ultimately taking the issue to court, with hospital officials finally agreeing to disclose proprietary information to an outside appraiser before the judge could issue a ruling.

And now the timing of the abatement is controversial as well.

Critics — including some County Council members — say Wichlinski should not be the one deciding when the abatement goes into effect. The council should make that decision, they say.

Wichlinski's decision was necessary, though, because the council didn't make that decision and seems content to leave it up to the auditor. 

The County Council could have been specific when it approved the abatement, and in retrospect it should have. That's a lesson the council should heed for future abatements.

But now it's the auditor's duty to implement the council's decision. Get it moving, and stop the squabbling among council members about whether this is the right timing and other arguments over this abatement.

It's time for healing, not continued fighting.

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