NEW PALESTINE — A public hearing to help the New Palestine Town Council determine whether to offer tax abatements for a proposed assisted-living facility for seniors went off with little objection Wednesday night.
The town council is expected to take a final vote on the issue next week.
The measure appears to be headed for approval: After the hearing, council members said they favored some form of tax abatement for Justus Home Builders.
It would be the first tax abatement ever approved in New Palestine. It also would be the first time in Hancock County that abatements have been approved for a non-industrial employer.
The town operates on a $1.3 million annual budget and could earn an estimated $280,841 for permits and inspections surrounding the project.
If tax abatements are given at 100 percent the first year, Justus officials would receive a property tax break estimated at $432,330.
An estimated 30 people attended the hearing, where only a handful of people expressed their views. The majority of them spoke in favor of the project and the proposed tax abatements as the council and Justus officials listened intently.
Sugar Creek Township Trustee Bob Boyer said while he thinks the area is in need of a residential complex for senior citizens, he does not want it at the expense of township services.
“I look at it from a trustee standpoint and on how much funding we’re going to be losing versus the services we’re going to have to provide,” Boyer said. “I see a significant potential for an increased workload for emergency medical services.”
He said just the idea grates on him that the township would see little or no additional revenue if tax abatements are offered for several years.
“People will say that we charge for ambulance services, but what Medicare pays is an extremely small amount compared to what it costs,” Boyer said.
New Palestine resident William Schenck spoke at the meeting and said while he wasn’t opposed to tax abatements for an economic zone, he wasn’t thrilled the town doesn’t already have an abatement policy in place.
“I think that is a little bit of our problem here,” Schenck said. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s just this is the first time we’ve had to deal with it.”
He’s fearful other businesses will want the town to make special exceptions and create tax abatements for other commercial businesses.
“I’m just afraid we’re getting the nose of the camel under the tent here without any guidelines,” Schenck.
Still, for the most part, the comments were positive, with several other speakers stepping up to say they were in favor of the incentives for the senior living facility.
“As the voice of the business community, we’d like to ask that you support this abatement,” New Palestine Chamber of Commerce representative Caralee Griffith said. “It’s a huge opportunity for growth for our community.”
Longtime New Palestine area business owner Gary Halliburton said he wanted to go on record to support tax abatements.
“We need growth,” Halliburton said.
He likes the fact the new development will utilize 13.27 acres of undeveloped land along U.S. 52 in front of the Greenfield Banking Co. branch to make the area look better.
The project, Woodland Terrace of New Palestine, is slated to be built at Sugar Creek Commons at 5800 W. U.S. 52.
The plans call for a senior age-in-place campus consisting of 95 assisted and memory care units and 30 cottage units for a total of 125 units.
“We haven’t had a development of this quality in a long time to locate here,” Halliburton said.
Debby Hildebrant is a local business owner and member of the Hancock Economic Development Council. She said there is a need for the facility and not just for the elderly.
“One of the things we have not talked about is the creation of jobs,” Hildebrant said. “They could be the number two biggest employer that we have here in Sugar Creek Township, and that is one thing to look at... If we tell them no on the abatement, I think we will be wrong.”
After the campus is built it is expected to employ at least 32 people with a net annual payroll of $1.3 million.
Following the meeting, Justus Home Builders president Walter Justus said he was pleased to hear several members of the town stepping forward in support of the tax abatements.
“It was news to me,” Justus said with a smile. “We really wanted to keep an eye on this part of it ... We’re full speed ahead if this thing works out.”
A subcommittee will meet with Justus officials sometime prior to next week’s town council meeting to see whether the two sides can agree on the number of years and percentages of a tax break prior to the town council’s vote on the issue.
“I think we still have some more information to get together before we make those decisions,” council member Larry Jonas said.