INDIANAPOLIS | Merrillville's plan to subsidize its police department with registration fees charged to apartment owners has prompted a central Indiana lawmaker to propose a statewide ban on all municipal apartment registration and inspection requirements.

State Rep. Mike Speedy, R-Indianapolis, said landlords don't oppose paying reasonable fees based on the cost of an inspection, but towns such as Merrillville shouldn't be sticking apartment owners with extra fees to cover expenses that should be paid by property taxes.

In July, Merrillville imposed a $100 per unit annual registration fee on landlords. Police Chief Joseph Petruch told The Times in December he hopes the town will use the more than $250,000 generated by the fee to hire two police officers.

House Bill 1313, which was heard by the Government and Regulatory Reform Committee on Tuesday but not voted on, would bar future collection of those fees starting July 1.

The measure is supported by the Indiana Apartment Association, a group of Hoosier landlords.

However, the mayors of Hammond, Gary and other Indiana cities and towns told the committee that, unlike Merrillville, their rental inspection programs are about safety, not revenue, and that their fees don't even cover the costs of their inspection programs.

"In Hammond, what's happening is people from Chicago are coming in and buying up single-family homes, and they cut them into three and four pieces and give three to four families substandard housing," Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. "It's unsafe. It's a major threat."

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she worked with the apartment association to reduce landlord fees when Gary adopted its rental registration requirement in December.

"The dollars from these fees are not contemplated in any way to shore up our budget," she said. "They are simply used ... to implement the ordinance."

The House committee is likely to vote on the legislation next week.

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