Council shuts down homestead violation crackdown

2013-04-10T20:15:00Z 2013-04-10T21:05:23Z Council shuts down homestead violation crackdownBy Bob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com

VALPARAISO | A fractured Porter County Council took a second shot Wednesday at gutting a county auditor fund, which brought a halt to a crackdown on homestead deduction violators that already has collected $1.6 million.

Councilwoman Karen Conover, R-3rd, who joined the 5-2 vote to gut the fund during the heated special meeting, said a lot of good has been accomplished with the crackdown proceeds, including getting taxes back on track.

What the council is after is greater public accountability, she said, referring to the goal of requiring Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski to seek council approval before spending any more of the crackdown proceeds.

The homestead deduction is limited to a taxpayer's primary residence.

Wichlinski, who sat in the audience and tallied the council vote in his role as auditor, did not oppose the reduction of his fund nor the council's 4-3 decision to table his subsequent request for $225,250 of the funding to continue with the homestead crackdown.

When Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, asked why the funding request was being delayed until the April 23 regular meeting, Councilman Dan Whitten, D-at-large, said, "More to come Jim, more to come."

Council President Bob Poparad, D-at-large, said when asked about the delay in considering the funding request: "That's not going to be a five-minute conversation."

The council first tried to take hold of the money in the auditor's fund last month, but the move was challenged by Wichlinski, who argued it was not legal because it had not been advertised.

The council decided that rather than risk a costly legal battle, it would advertise the move and go through the steps again during Wednesday's special meeting, according to council attorney Scott McClure.

The county commissioners last week approved the consultant contracts to continue with the homestead crackdown, pending funding by the council, according to Wichlinski.

In preparation for the discussion later this month on the funding request, Conover asked Wichlinski for a breakdown on how the crackdown proceeds have been spent so far this year.

Wichlinski has said that after concluding the crackdown on single-family home violators, he now hopes to pursue owners of multi-unit residential buildings. He has identified 800 such properties in suspected violation and had only just began the job of investigating the individual cases and contacting property owners.

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