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County banks on airport for development
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County banks on airport for development

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VALPARAISO | When the Porter County Redevelopment Commission revealed plans recently to pursue $48.7 million for improvements in and around the Porter County Regional Airport in Washington Township, concern was voiced about the lack of public use of the site.

There are no commercial flights at the airport.

Corporations are the biggest users of the airport's two runways and tax-exempt hangers, with a small number of private plane owners listed among the customers, airport Director Kyle Kuebler said.

Yet Kuebler said the airport is providing a financial benefit to county taxpayers, who are slated to contribute $656,829 toward the airport's $1.5 million budgets in 2013. The balance of the budgets are funded by the airport through aviation services such as fuel sales and various leases.

An independent, job-based study found the airport contributed nearly $17.3 million to the local economy during 2012, he said. That amounts to 13 times the amount of the airport's operations budget, he said.

The airport, which employs eight full-time workers and is approved for up to 12, also has the distinction of ranking first in the state in the number of aircrafts based on site, Kuebler said. The airport is home to 164 aircrafts.

The airport is also eighth in the state in the number of takeoffs and landings.

"We are one of the busiest general aviation airports in the state," he said.

County officials are hoping to both build upon the successes at the airport and use that asset to help draw more development to the area by creating a tax increment financing district. The TIF would capture revenue from new commercial development to be used within a designated area in and around site.

Opponents of TIFs argue their use denies new revenues to other taxing units, such as schools and emergency services, and prevents homeowners from benefiting from a higher assessed valuation caused by development. The redevelopment commission members have voiced their intent to provide the East Porter County School Corp. with its share of any new revenues.

The county first began work on a TIF in the area of the new hospital, but those plans were tabled in favor of the airport property after opposition and concern arose over combining the TIF with the tax abatement granted to the hospital.

The exact boundaries of the proposed economic development area are still in the works by the redevelopment commission, but they are likely to fall within a 15-square-mile area surrounding the airport already targeted in a land use plan. The Airport Zone Development Study, which is a cooperative effort among the airport, county and city of Valparaiso, seeks to identify the most appropriate land use initiatives and maximize the economic development potential within the designated area.

Kuebler said the TIF would benefit the airport by attracting new customers, cover the local share of grants and fund projects not covered by federal grants.

All buildings within the airport are deemed tax-exempt under state law, which means that new development on the airport land will not contribute new revenues to the TIF effort.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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