MERRILLVILLE | Funds collected from the town's rental registration fee can't be used to increase Merrillville's police force, Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey said Wednesday.
"I'm not real happy," he said of the situation.
In July, the Town Council adopted an ordinance requiring landlords to register their residential rental units in town and pay an annual $100 registration fee for each unit. The ordinance also establishes procedure for the town to inspect rental units if Merrillville receives complaints about them.
The town planned to use money generated from the fee to enforce the ordinance and increase police staffing.
Guernsey said hiring more police officers doesn't qualify as an administrative cost associated with the fee.
The town plans to rewrite the ordinance to reflect the fee only would be used for inspections of rental units, he said.
Merrillville also plans to reduce the annual fee from $100 per unit to $50 per unit, Guernsey said.
Because of the proposed fee reduction, landlords who already paid $100 for each of their rental units would be covered for two years, Guernsey said.
Lynne Sullivan, president of the Indiana Apartment Association, said in a written statement that the proposed action by the town "shows that the intent all along was just to raise money and has nothing to do with the quality of housing in Merrillville."
Sullivan said the town should reimburse landlords the funds they have paid for the fee, "and then have a public hearing to determine the need for a registration ordinance."
In January, Merrillville reported it collected nearly $375,000 from the registration fee.
"We were all counting on this money to hire more officers," said Town Councilman Ron Widing, chairman of Merrillville's Public Safety Committee.
He and Guernsey said there is a continued need for additional police in town, but they don't know how Merrillville can generate more funding for the Police Department.
"We're going to have to go back to the drawing board, I guess," Widing said.
Last year some town leaders proposed a referendum that would have asked Merrillville voters to support a tax increase to hire 10 more police officers.
After planning started and Merrillville officials hosted multiple public forums about the matter, Indiana's Department of Local Government Finance told the town it couldn't pursue that option because referendums for operating expenses are allowed only for schools.