HOBART | A Lake Superior Court judge has ruled Hobart can join a lawsuit to end a property tax levy freeze under attack as strangling local government in the county.
Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider issued an order that Hobart's entry into a challenge to the constitutionality of the levy freeze was permissible. She overruled objections and won't unduly delay or complicate the suit's eventual resolution.
"Hobart isn't afraid to stand up and say this is wrong," Mayor Brian Snedecor said Thursday.
The city will now throw its resources behind a suit filed last year by two Lake County police officers, Daniel Murchek, assistant county police chief, and president of Lake County Police Association Local 72, and Robert Klasner, of the county Fraternal Order of Police.
"I'm very pleased with the judge's ruling," Murchek said Thursday. "Other cities and towns are more than welcome to join us."
Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General, said, “The Office of the Attorney General continues to defend the statute and defend our client DLGF as is our duty whenever plaintiffs challenge a state statute. Although we opposed Hobart’s intervention, we respect the court’s order granting Hobart’s motion to intervene. The state’s obligation to uphold the law is unchanged.”
Murchek, Klasner and now Hobart allege local government's ability to provide essential services is crippled by state legislators who accuse local Democrats of bloated government payrolls fueled by abusive use of the property tax system.
The General Assembly passed a law six years ago freezing the total amount of money local government can extract from county property owners annually by ending Lake's ability to escalate tax collections each year based on inflation.
"Since the freeze has been in place, we have lost about $2 million," Snedecor said. "We have had to reduce staffing levels and manpower hours and put off purchasing equipment that was badly in need. We also have had to find other revenue alternatives in our fee structure.
"We weathered it the first two or three years and always pride ourselves in spending dollars wisely, but there comes a point this levy freeze is hitting everyone hard. We are at a point where this is traumatic."
Murchek said the freeze is unconstitutional special legislation to punish Lake County over a philosophical dispute on government finance.
"Our lawyer, Adam Sedia, will continue to pursue this issue," he said.
The law under attack would only permit the county to resume higher tax collections if its officials adopt a local personal income tax on residents and workers.
Lake is the only one of Indiana's 92 counties without a local income tax. County officials say it would unfairly burden working men and women, because businesses would be exempt from paying it.