CROWN POINT | A Merrillville lawyer is vowing to stop an upcoming Lake County treasurer's office tax sale or at least save his office from being auctioned off because its owners haven't paid taxes in 16 years.
"This smells bad," Ed Hall said of what he calls the county's technically flawed efforts to collect more than $391,000 in back taxes and penalties on properties in a secret trust that includes his business office in the 7500 block of Broadway.
Pro-Tem Lake Circuit Judge Alice A. Kuzemka declined to remove the real estate from the tax auction, which is set to begin Aug. 17.
Hall said he will appeal the decision to a higher court.
"We will challenge this tax sale," Hall said.
Hall was one of dozens who petitioned Lake Circuit Court on Thursday to avoid having their properties sold to the highest bidder, an annual event the county treasurer's office conducts to push delinquent taxpayers into settling up or put real estate in the hands of people who can afford to pay taxes.
More than 18,004 properties are currently at risk of being sold during a 10-day Internet tax sale run by Indianapolis-based SRI Inc. Treasurer John Petalas said the sale ensures those who pay their taxes on time aren't carrying the burden of supporting local government.
Petalas said growing numbers of delinquent property owners are signing up for the county's amnesty program.
"Our staff has appointments every 20 minutes between now and Aug. 17," Petalas said. "Starting next week, they will be working overtime just to bring in all the people. This tax sale is the only way to get their attention."
Randy Wyllie, an attorney for the county auditor's office, said Hall's legal objections account for years of delays in the county's collecting the overdue taxes on the Merrillville business.
Hall said Thursday that his clients' objections to the sale center on the county's calculations.
"All my clients want to pay their taxes, but the county's numbers don't work. The (taxes) are all calculated wrong. Their notices misstate the law. That renders the sale invalid."
The judge granted a year's reprieve for Arthur Mullins, who is being billed $13,000 on a residence he purchased four years ago for less than $8,000. She advised Mullins to work out a payment schedule with the county for four years of unpaid taxes.
When advised Mullins had failed to take similar advice last year, the judge warned him, "This is your last chance."