CROWN POINT | The Republican Lake County assessor says Democratic officials are mismanaging public money in a way that is undermining his authority and wrongly enriching township officials.
County Assessor Hank Adams, speaking at a Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday, attacked the County Council, which oversees government fiscal matters, for "micromanaging" his office. He said council members' interference threatens his efforts to deliver county property tax bills on time.
Adams said the council diverted more than $26,000 last year from his office's reassessment budget to provide personal bonuses — called per-diem wages — to the county's five township assessors.
He said Calumet Township Assessor Jacqueline Collins in Gary, who received $10,000 in addition to her base salary of $52,726, now has a higher salary than he does.
Adams got $3,750 from the County Council in the same appropriation as Collins in addition to his base salary of $54,417.
Collins said Adams is being unfair because he demanded the same per diem payments for himself during the 16 years he was St. John Township assessor. Adams denies that.
Voters elect county and township assessors to calculate each real estate owner's share of county property taxes by setting a value on the owner's land, buildings and select personal assets.
Adams has been making regular appeals to the council for more money to oversee the county's property tax assessments since 2010, when he became the first Republican in 50 years to win a countywide election in a county where Democrats regularly rule most local government agencies.
The Calumet, Ross and Hobart Township assessors are Democrats. The Center and St. John township assessors are Republicans.
Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary, who was council president last year when the per diem money was approved, said the council was advised by its legal counselors that awarding the money followed state law.
Collins said she earned her money last year working on 1,900 assessment appeals and a similar number of sales disclosures.
"I'm a hands-on assessor," she said.
Appeals are requests by property owners to have the township re-examine the value set on a property by the township for taxing purposes. Sales disclosures contain information about property sales needed to ensure assessments trend in the same direction as local real estate market prices.
Ross Township Assessor Angela Guernsey in Merrillville, who received $5,050 in per diem pay, said she must personally approve the processing of 100 transactions a month. Hobart Township Assessor Julia Wolek didn't return calls seeking comment.
Center Township Assessor Kristie Dressel in Crown Point, who received $3,700 in per diem pay last year, said, "I only have a staff of four people, so I can't just sit back. I took part in on-site inspections of attics and basements."
Dressel said she also did the work of entering more than 700 real estate sales disclosures last year.
Collins said, "I just want us to all work together."
Adams said he will be writing a letter to the General Assembly asking lawmakers to eliminate township assessors as elected officials.