VALPARAISO | Porter County Auditor Bob Wichlinski hopes a decision last week by the County Council to deny him direct access to the $606,000 generated by a crackdown on homestead violators will not stand in his way of proceeding with that effort.
Wichlinski said he intends to ask the council for $200,000 to $250,000 of the funding to pursue the next level of offenders, who are owners of multi-unit residential buildings.
He has identified 800 such properties and had only just began the job of investigating the individual cases and contacting property owners when the funding was cut off.
If the council does not approve the additional funding, Wichlinski said he will just send out the bills and let the county treasurer and Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals handle the response.
Porter County Councilman Bob Poparad, who had taken over the presidency of the council in a surprise move during the same meeting last week that curbs were placed on the auditor fund, said he has encouraged Wichlinski to come forward when he has funding requests.
Poparad said he wonders why Wichlinski needs the additional funding for the crackdown and can't accomplish the job with his staff.
The question comes as the council is poised to pay $40,000 a year plus benefits to hire the assistance of a full-time budget and finance specialist.
Poparad said the new council position is needed to streamline the complex budgeting process.
"I applaud the job they've done," Poparad said of the auditor's crackdown on taxpayers improperly receiving a homestead deduction. The deduction is limited to a taxpayer's primary residence.
"But they spent most of it," he said, referring to the money generated by the crackdown.
Wichlinski said the first part of the crackdown, which focused on single-family homes, generated $1.6 million.
The success of the effort has allowed Wichlinski to team up with Porter County assessor, treasurer and recorder'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 proceeds also were shared with the commissioners to help fund an economic study of the county, Wichlinski said.
Local units of government also benefit from the crackdown by receiving additional revenue as the homestead violations are removed, he said.
This shared effort was brought to an end as a result of the council's action last week, Wichlinski said.
"I'm not trying to build an empire," he said. "I'm just trying to do my job."