CROWN POINT | Lake officials plan to sue to recover more than $566,000 in delinquent property taxes and late penalties owed by a Gary School Board member.
Lake County Attorney John Dull said Monday the Lake County Board of Commissioners authorized litigation aimed at 96 parcels now under the name of Marion R. Williams, who has represented the Gary Community School Corp.'s 4th District since 2008.
The school district has recently been forced to close six schools because of declining enrollment and an inability to collect even half the property taxes on official books, contributing to the school district's $23.7 million budget deficit.
Dull said if the county wins a judgment against Williams, it can "garnish the money that he receives as a member of the Gary School Board as well as any other monies on file that you can discover," Dull stated.
The Board of Commissioners and the county treasurer share the responsibility of collecting overdue property taxes, usually by selling delinquent properties to the highest bidder at auctions three times a year.
Treasurer John Petalas said many of Williams' properties already are scheduled to go on the block at his upcoming tax sale later this summer, but he notes many of Gary's more than 10,000 abandoned properties rarely sell.
Petalas said he has directed his attorneys to pursue Williams and other delinquent taxpayers in court previously.
Williams said if the county proceeds against him he will file his own class action suit "in the name of all Gary citizens" against the county for assessing property values at unreasonably high amounts.
Williams said he is only one of many property owners trying to reinvest in his community, holding long-abandoned lots and houses made largely worthless by vandalism, high tax assessments and a refusal by banks to lend to Gary property owners.
Williams said he had little success in getting the Calumet Township assessor to acknowledge the assessment problem as he sees it. Edward Gholson, chief deputy assessor for Calumet Township, said last week Williams can appeal to the county and the state if he remains dissatisfied.
County records indicate the parcels under Williams' name have an official assessed value of more than $1.2 million, even though he bought many of them in county tax sales for less than $100 apiece.
Williams said last week some of the properties he owned were divided among his ex-wife and children following a divorce, although county records still reflect him as the owner.
Dull said the county has sued Williams for the taxes that accrued when he was the owner of the properties, whether or not he now owns them.
Williams also said he also believes the tax situation is being used by opponents within the school district disturbed by his complaints about waste and corruption.