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Lake County Government Center

Lake County Government Center

Lake County should take both solace and discomfort in recent revelations about its government tax sale.

On one hand, the county took in $19 million in the sale of tax-delinquent properties in 2019.

That's 62% more than last year's efforts in a sale that seeks to collect unpaid property taxes by selling the delinquent properties.

Lake County Treasurer Peggy Katona rightly notes that the interest in county parcels from bidders shows Lake County is a good investment to real estate speculators. It's also good to see public coffers receive their due.

But the county shouldn't be taking too much of bow where tax sales are concerned.

An ongoing string of investigative reports by Times reporter Lauren Cross also shows the county's tax sale process has fallen victim to a sort of insider training, fraught with conflicts of interest and bids by at least one individual, who helped a political insider snatch up hundreds of parcels and should have been barred by state law from bidding on the tax-delinquent properties.

All county government officials and entities who are entrusted with the integrity of this process owe answers and solutions to Lake County taxpayers.

First, the good news: More than 12,000 buildings and lots, for which the property owners had fallen more than 18 months behind on taxes, sold at the county's annual tax sale this year.

That's crucial money back into public coffers.

Much of that previously uncollected tax money was tied to Gary properties.

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So it should come as no surprise that the bad news also emanates from delinquent Gary properties.

For weeks, a number of ongoing exclusive Times reports have noted hundreds of Gary tax sale properties, some of which border the land for a major future casino development, were snatched up by Broadway Logistics Complex LLC, a company for which Region attorney Rinzer Williams III is the manager.

Meanwhile, Williams also is attorney for the Gary City Council and holds a legal contract for the Lake County commissioners. And he's a hired consultant in the casino project.

Those facts alone smack of conflict and bring an air of insider trading.

But the problems run even deeper.

Times reporting also has shown that tax-delinquent felon Thomas Wisniewski has personally directed the bidding for Broadway Logistics at a tax sale.

Wisniewski should have been barred by state law from bidding at the tax sale because county records show he is delinquent on taxes for some of his personal properties.

Further Times reporting is showing that county officials knew the scofflaw should have been barred from bidding but tolerated his participation in the process anyway. Now the county seeks to nullify the bids for hundreds of parcels snatched up by Broadway Logistics as a result.

There are more unacceptable story lines taking shape in relation to the Lake County tax sales than any resident of the county or state should be willing to tolerate.

Rather than celebrating an up year for tax sales, the county should be spending its time working to ensure the integrity of the process.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.