One day after the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance put the
kibosh on a plan to waive back taxes on multi-family dwellings, the Porter
County Council said it may approve an ordinance in a few weeks that would in
fact give the county the option to offer amnesty plans to delinquent
Several County Council members attended Tuesday’s County Commissioner
meeting where Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, veered off the
agenda to address reaction spurred by County Auditor Robert Wichlinski’s
move last week to excuse homestead credit violators from paying back taxes
if they corrected their homestead credit records with the auditor’s office.
After learning there is no state law that allows counties authority to do
that, Evans asked council members and State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso,
what can be done to straighten out delinquent tax issues.
“Since this has come up in the last few days, not many of us know what our
options are,” said Evans.
Soliday said there is a law just put into place, House Bill 1090, which he
co-authored, that allows the county council to grant a one-year moratorium
on all interest and penalties on real property, businesses and residencies,
owed before Jan. 1, 2012. The taxpayer can have their fees dropped if they
are able to pay up all current and back taxes through a payment plan agreed
to by the county treasurer by July 1, 2013.
The bill, Soliday said, was based on a system which Lake County already had
in place to keep properties from winding up on tax sales in these “terrible
economic times” and applied it statewide. Often counties would be stuck with
properties they could not sell because the taxes exceeded the actual value
of the property, Soliday said.
HB 1090 gives delinquent taxpayers an incentive to settle delinquencies with
the county from the last three years, and in turn a way for the county to
collect more revenue owed to taxing units. That includes delinquencies from
But Soliday said every county is different in the way they collect revenue
which makes the HB 1090 measure “extremely complex.”
County Assessor Jon Snyder said he hopes to reassess as many buildings as
possible that have a homestead violation. Multi-unit properties are the most
difficult because assessor workers in the field do not have authority go
inside and measure the units, he said.
Soliday said he has been in communication with the DLGF hoping it can render
an opinion on multi-unit exemptions. He said the law really is intended for
“one-two-three-four” places, where 25 percent of a multi-unit property is a
residence which receives the homestead credit and the other 75 percent is
run as a business and should receives no exemption. A scenario that is not
as black-and-white is when “the little old widow rents out a room to a
college student,” said Soliday.
The part of the law requiring counties to recoup unpaid taxes is easier to
understand. “The law is clear. You must collect the taxes,” Soliday said.
The county has collected over $1.4 million in revenue from homestead
violations, Evans said, which has been put into a non-reverting fund in the
auditor’s budget. Soliday questioned whether the money should be stored in a
non-reverting fund as state lawmakers never anticipated that type of fund
accumulating such a large amount.
A few County Council members have posed the same question including Karen
Conover, R-3rd, who feels the money should be returned to the taxing units
hit hard by the tax caps. “It should be shared,” she said.
Evans said he would like to see the money go into the county’s general fund
once the auditor’s expenses are covered. Soliday said he would be interested
in drawing up a bill that could accomplish that.
Soliday disputed Auditor Robert Wichlinski’s claim the $120,000 in penalties
on homestead violations would go to the state and said the taxes should all
go back to the county.
Wichlinski later told the Tribune that the Indiana state auditor’s
office does indeed ask that counties give them the penalty fees. A phone
call to the Indiana auditor ‘s office for verification was not returned by
Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large, said he supports the payment plan
option in HB 1090, as did Council member Laura Blaney, D-at large, and they
plan to discuss it at the council’s upcoming meeting on May 22. The
ordinance would need approval by July 1, Soliday said.
“We will get it on the agenda,” Whitten told the commissioners.
Meanwhile, County Treasurer Mike Bucko said he has no authority to give tax
amnesty, but is considering payment plans that make it easier for delinquent
taxpayers to catch up on taxes and eliminate the risk of appearing on the
list for a sheriff’s sale.
In regards to possible amnesty plans, Bucko said the nature of those would
have to be determined by the county council.
Wichlinski noted this morning that HB 1090 is about delinquent tax payments,
not homestead violations. Taxes become delinquent once they are not paid for
over a year and are subject to auction at a tax sale.