Porter County Building

The Porter County government building on Indiana Avenue in downtown Valparaiso.

John Luke, The Times

VALPARAISO — Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder has failed to convince the state to host a Jan. 18 hearing locally, rather than in Indianapolis for a Hebron apartment complex seeking to hold on to its tax exempt status.

The Indiana Board of Tax Review ended the dispute Thursday, saying there already have been enough delays in the case, each either initiated or agreed to by Snyder's office.

Earlier hearing dates in July, September and November all were continued and all were  scheduled for Porter County, according to the IBTR ruling. A December hearing date was scheduled in Indianapolis when Snyder's attorney failed to provide proposed dates as requested.

The matter was rescheduled for Jan. 18 in Indianapolis and Snyder's request to change the location to Porter County would force yet another delay, according to the IBTR.

The IBTR said its offices, its senior law judges and most of the witnesses are in Indianapolis.

The IBTR said it routinely sends its administrative law judges outside of Indianapolis as a courtesy to taxpayers and assessors, but at a cost to the board.

"While I am disappointed with this ruling I look forward to the January 18th hearing in order to defend the decision by our local board to remove the exemption from this apartment complex," Snyder said. "Porter County will vigorously oppose a tax exempt status for this entity no matter where the hearing is held."

The hearing was triggered when Hebron-Vision of Indianapolis appealed the 2013 decision by the Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals to withdraw the charitable tax exempt status for Misty Glen Apartments. The three-member board agreed that the owners failed to show it qualifies for the breaks through charitable efforts.

Hebron-Vision argues in its appeal the property is used to provide "safe, decent and affordable housing in a charitable manner for ... low-income and very low-income individuals and families."

"Through those acts, a benefit inures to the public sufficient to justify the loss of tax revenue," according to the appeal.

Hebron-Vision accused Snyder of political grandstanding in his attempts to relocate the appeal hearing to Porter County.

"Respondent's (Snyder) true intent in seeking to move the hearing to Valparaiso is to facilitate increased public attendance in order to exert pressure on the IBTR (Indiana Board of Tax Review) in favor of the respondent and against the petitioner — all of which is improper," according to the motion opposing Snyder's request.

Snyder said appellate hearings on local issues have always been held in Porter County.

The five-building, 80-apartment complex at 99 Misty Lane was granted tax exempt status in 2009 by the IBTR.

Porter County Board of Appeals member Nicholas Sommer had said the tax exempt status was pulled because there was no evidence presented during the March 2013 hearing of charitable or educational efforts on behalf of the apartment operators.

Hebron-Vision, which purchased the complex in September 2007, argued at the time it received the exemption that it offers services to tenants such as newsletters, referral programs, holiday parties, access to office equipment and free blood pressure screenings.

Sommer said the rental rates are compatible with the Hebron market and not significantly better than competing units.

Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals member Joe Wszolek said the operators evict residents who are unable to pay their rent.

Sommer said the evidence also showed Misty Glen is generating a profit, which is not being kept in Porter County.

Sandy Bickel, an Indianapolis attorney representing Hebron-Vision, said at the time the affordable housing provided at the complex probably will be lost if the tax exemption is removed.

She said it is very unusual for a county to initiate an effort like this to remove tax exemption granted by the state.

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Bob is a 22-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.