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MARC CHASE: Council president thumbs nose at struggling Gary by not paying taxes

Gary Common Council President Ronald Brewer

Gary Common Council President Ronald Brewer owes more than $40,000 in back taxes and penalties on four properties in the city, according to Lake County records.

Brewer, who holds an at-large council seat, owns a total of five parcels in Gary, according to county records.

In addition to his primary residence in the 2300 block of West 20th Place, Brewer is the listed owner of parcels at 2765-85 W. 11th Ave.; 2789 W. 11th Ave.; 2793 W. 11th Ave.; and 2080 Taft St.

While he is current on property taxes at his primary residence, Brewer owes thousands from the 2017 tax year on the four other properties he owns. The three parcels on 11th Avenue consist of a car wash, plus two vacant lots that sit immediately to the west of it. The Taft Street parcel contains a single-family home on the west side of the street.

At the end of 2018, Brewer’s tax balance on the 2765-85 W. 11th Ave. parcel was $6,045, according to county records. The year-end balance on the 2080 Taft St. parcel was $5,224.

The balances on the 2789 and 2793 W. 11th Ave. parcels were $14,791 and $16,049, respectively. No taxes have been paid on either parcel since 2004 under a different owner, according to the Lake County auditor’s office.

Not including taxes and penalties that will accrue this year, Brewer’s delinquent tax liability on the four properties is $42,109, according to county records.

Reached for comment on his property tax situation, Brewer said the three 11th Avenue parcels were supposed to have been sold at a county tax sale at least seven years ago, but they were never taken out of his name. The buyer, whose name Brewer could not recall, since has died, he said.

“It was never officially transferred to (the buyer’s) name because of a problem with the property description,” Brewer told The Times. “They never straightened it out.”

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Brewer claimed he only learned about the tax delinquencies in his name on Tuesday while conducting business at the Lake County assessor’s office. As for the parcel at 2080 Taft St., he said he is renovating the house there and will “absolutely” pay the taxes owed on it this year.

Under state law, county treasurers can take parcels that have unpaid taxes and special assessments from the prior year’s spring installment and sell them at a public auction. Each July, the Lake County treasurer's office certifies a list of delinquent properties and notifies the property owners of the county’s intent to sell their tax liens to the highest bidder.

A property owner can remove his parcel from the tax sale list by paying the taxes and penalties owed on the prior spring installment or reaching a “mutually satisfactory arrangement” with the treasurer for the payment of back taxes.

That appears to be the case with Brewer’s parcel at 2765-85 W. 11th Ave. The property was on the auction list at the 2018 treasurer’s tax sale, but the owner paid enough to have it removed before the sale, according to the auditor’s office.

In Lake County, delinquent parcels are first auctioned at the treasurer’s tax sale in September, when buyers must bid the minimum to cover all back taxes and penalties. Properties that don’t sell are passed off to a commissioners’ sale the next year and auctioned at reduced prices.

Brewer’s parcels at 2789 and 2793 W 11th Ave. — both vacant lots — were on the auction list for the treasurer’s tax sale in 2018, according to the county auditor. Neither property sold at that auction, so the parcels will be transferred to a commissioner’s sale later this year.

The parcel at 2080 Taft St. was not delinquent in 2018, meaning it was not eligible for the treasurer’s tax sale that year. It will be eligible for this fall’s tax sale unless Brewer pays some or all of the back taxes, the auditor’s office said.

Brewer is one of 15 Democratic candidates running for Gary’s three at-large seats in the May 7 primary. Since there is no Republican opposition in the at-large contest this year, the top three vote-getters in the Democratic primary almost certainly will win seats on the Common Council.

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