VALPARAISO | Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder has expanded his challenge of tax exempt properties in the county to include portions of Valparaiso University.
The Porter County Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals agreed this past week to a request by Snyder to determine whether the university should legally be able to maintain tax exempt status at the bookstore and banquet facility/ballroom at the Harre Student Union.
He is also researching to see if there are other income-producing areas of the campus to apply the key question of whether the predominant use is for education.
"If they're not paying their fair share, somebody else will," he said.
Valparaiso University did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.
The challenge to the university is similar to Snyder's opposition in November to an attempt by United Steelworkers Local 6787 in Portage to regain tax exempt status for its union hall and nearby building it referred to as a meeting facility.
The union argued the buildings are used for charitable and educational efforts, but the assessor's office said the meeting facility is actually a lucrative banquet center. An attorney for the assessor argued in the pending case that exemption law requires the facilities benefit the larger community and not primarily the group's membership.
Snyder also questioned the fairness of the union or university receiving these breaks while competing with private banquet facilities that are required to pay taxes.
Snyder had announced shortly after taking office in 2011 that he intended to take a close look at the 6,246 local parcels receiving property tax exemptions to see if each owner is qualified for the tax break. He said an estimated $17 million in unpaid revenue was at stake.
Snyder is also challenging the religious tax exempt status of the $1.1 million Preachit Inc. property in Porter Township, whose owners are arguing the nonprofit corporation is a religious society and thus entitled to the breaks.
PTABOA members have yet to decide whether they agree with the definition and whether the tax exempt status should cover not only the portion of the 8,746-square-foot home used as corporate offices but also the more than 6,000 square feet used as a parsonage by the pastor and his wife.