CROWN POINT | A local pilot's spirits are soaring after Lake County officials expedited his property tax appeal and saved him more than $1,200.
"The thing is, how many people just pay their tax bills and say screw the county?" Richard Laufersky asked. "Go for what's right."
He is moving from Winfield to Colorado.
Laufersky, who works for a major airline, was one of thousands contesting the assessed tax value the county placed on their homes and businesses, a time-consuming process that often leaves taxpayers vexed.
He said he beat the odds with persistence and good evidence the county had made an error.
For the past decade, property tax assessments has been grounded in shifting real estate market values that should reflect the amount an independent buyer would pay.
Laufersky said he became the victim of what he considered incredible inflation when he got his tax bill in 2012 and the assessed value of his house in the Doubletree Lake Estates subdivision had been bumped up to well more than $400,000 -- a 7 percent increase in just one year.
He complained first at the county level, but found the process unsatisfactory.
"We had a hearing on it and (Laufersky) couldn't substantiate from (comparable house) sales the amount he was looking for," Lake County Assessor Hank Adams said.
Laufersky escalated his appeal to the Indiana Board of Tax Review. In the meantime, his taxes were due and county officials urged him to pay the full amount.
He chose to follow advice on the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance website which states, "If you have initiated an appeal, you may pay only an amount of taxes based on the immediately preceding year’s assessment pending a final determination of your appeal."
Nevertheless, the county imposed delinquent penalties on his house.
Laufersky said his job required him to move to Denver and he didn't want to wait for his appeal to be resolved years later. He offered to pay the disputed tax amount if the county waived the late fees.
Lake County Treasurer John Petalas said the county's tax tracking system, required by the DLGF, doesn't permit his staff to take any shortcuts in deleting penalties.
Laufersky complained to state officials who assured him he did the right thing. At first, county officials refused to budge, but with Laufersky preparing to close on his house's sale this week, he pressed for action and the county assessor's office agreed to take a second look.
Laufersky said he had just sold the house for an appraised price of $380,000, tens of thousands of dollars below the disputed assessment. Adams said his office made a minor adjustment, which reduced last year's and this year's taxes due, as well as the late fees.
"They called me with an agreement and said let's meet and we got it settled," Laufersky said.