Officials eye $1.6 million from homestead violations

2012-09-15T19:30:00Z 2012-09-17T00:27:05Z Officials eye $1.6 million from homestead violationsBob Kasarda bob.kasarda@nwi.com, (219) 548-4345 nwitimes.com
September 15, 2012 7:30 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski has collected nearly $1.6 million since last year from taxpayers improperly receiving a homestead deduction.

The success of the effort has allowed Wichlinski to team up with Porter County assessor and treasurer's offices to collect nearly $1 million in back taxes, usher in e-government, help assure tax bills are in compliance with the recently-adopted tax caps and reduce the backlog of tax assessment appeals.

The size of the fund, spent at the discretion of the auditor, has attracted the attention of fellow officials looking to share the wealth.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he is considering introducing legislation that would cap at $100,000 or so the amount of money that county auditors across the state can collect in these funds.

Any excess money would be directed to a county's general fund to be shared by other departments, he said.

These auditor funds were established to provide funding for and incentive to crack down on taxpayers improperly receiving a homestead deduction, Soliday said. The deduction is limited to a taxpayer's primary residence.

It was never the intention to allow millions of dollars to build up in these funds, he said.

"It's not a punitive anything," Soliday said of the proposed change. "It's just a public policy."

He would like to see the cap apply to any new money collected by the auditor, thus leaving alone the current large balance for continued use by the auditor.

Wichlinski said he does not make policy. But said the proposed change would not leave enough funding behind to continue on with the total quality management effort shared with the assessor and treasurer's offices.

He said he is not limited to using the fund to crack down on homestead violators, but is allowed by law to cover costs affecting his office.

"I was just trying to make things better," he said.

Porter County Council Vice President Karen Conover, R-3rd, lauded Wichlinski's efforts with the money and the success of the TQM program.

"Mission accomplished," she said.

What she intends to ask is Wichlinski pay back to the Porter County Council the nearly $500,000 provided to him in March 2011 to kick off the TQM program.

"We're terribly, terribly cash strapped," Conover said.

Wichlinski said he is forbidden by law to just turn over these funds to the council.

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