Tabling requests last month to revamp the county’s process of sending out
property tax bills, the council took the step of granting a multi-layered
request made jointly by county officials Auditor Bob Wichlinski, Assessor
Jon Snyder and Treasurer Mike Bucko who deal with the revenue side of county
Even after a month of discussions to convince council members the
approximate $500,000 proposal is worth the gamble, the three officials
fought tooth and nail on Tuesday to overcome apprehensions.
“This is a large amount of money,” said Council Vice-President Jim Biggs,
R-1st, who led the meeting in Council President Dan Whitten’s, D-at large,
Wichlinski repeated his reason behind the team’s mission -- timely and
accurate tax bills.
“We view this as a once in a generation opportunity,” said Wichlinski.
The requests would require a large amount of consultant work for all three
offices to help remedy the problems that have accumulated over the years.
Objectives include back tax violation enforcement, exemption/homestead
credit violations, TIF neutralization, mailing address corrections, fixed
asset valuations, compliance with the Internal Revenue Service tax methods,
improving county ordinances and issuing tax-cap compliant tax bills to
reduce the number of appeals. All to be accomplished this year.
Wichlinski said the plan would also promote fairness among the taxpayers.
When one person isn’t paying, it causes everyone else to pay more.
From the assessor side where the taxing process begins, $249,000 would be
spent on consultants to help clear the roughly 7,000 appeals in backlog and
get the office up to speed on countywide reassessment due next year.
Snyder said he does not expect to meet the state’s July 1 deadline to turn
in all the land values for reassessment nor the May 1 requirement to have
half the field work and data entered. If these obstacles continue to be
delayed, Snyder said it could hinder the readiness of the 2012 pay 2013 tax
bills although the 2011 pay 2012 bills are still on track.
Only 37 percent of the field work is completed and 14 percent of data
entered, Snyder reported.
“I didn’t realize we were in that horrible shape in the assessor’s office,”
commented Council member Sylvia Graham, D-at large.
Snyder said he has been hiring as many part-time workers as his budget would
allow in order to complete reassessment work. A new full-time position was
also sought to work in the commercial department to perform data entry.
The auditor and treasurer consultants, together worth $182,000, would
largely assist in collecting delinquent back tax amounts of up to $16
million to $20 million that would then go back to their respective taxing
Bucko, who reported his office recently found a list of taxes delinquent
from mobile home assessments in 2006 worth $1.5 million, said the county has
had the right to collect the money but the preceding officeholders for some
reason never made the effort to get it. He said he also plans to have
another county tax sale later this year for assessments from 2007 and
The hired help would also work interchangeably between the three offices
which is how the three officials decided to work as a team. One council
member Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, asked if at least some of the work couldn’t be
done in-house. Wichlinski said his office has its hands full performing its
functions like handling the county payroll.
“We are consumed just by the day-to-day business,” said Wichlinski.
Understanding the costs seemed steep, Wichlinski told the council the
measure would prevent the county from reverting back to a few years ago when
officials faced a myriad of problems concerning the tax bills.
He asked the council why put off something for tomorrow when it should have
been done six years ago.
“This is either a brilliant plan or just throwing more money at reoccurring
problems,” added fellow Council member Karen Conover, R-3rd. She said it
would be nice for the tax problems to go away so the council can work
together on “more important things.”
Wichlinski said the money paid for the requests would not come from county
income tax funds or the hospital interest funds, but from unallocated
General Fund money and would not negatively impact taxpayers in any way.
The team made an oath to the council to report to the council with a
“measurable score card” chronicling the progress on a monthly basis.
Biggs said the team provided the information he needed to hear in order win
his trust by pledging accountability of the money.
Biggs remembered pledges made during the fall election season that the
county would work together to provide better services for the county and
said the council should strive to fulfill that promise.
Agreeing to keep the voter’s wishes in mind was council member Jim Polarek,
R-4th, who saw this as a chance to correct problems the county has seen for
years, even decades.
“We would be shorting the voters if we didn’t give these gentlemen the
chance to fix this problem,” Polarek said.
Bucko said the money “is as good as saved when it is spent responsibly.”
Offering a few words of encouragement for the proposal was Porter County
Commission President John Evans who said the council would be “missing a
golden opportunity” if it passed it up.
During a tense 4-2 vote, the slim majority to give the all-go for the plan
consisted of Polarek, Conover, Laura Blaney, D-at large, and Biggs. Members
not approving were Graham and Rivas.
“I want the problem fixed and I want you back here every month,” Conover
told the team before voting yes.
The council also took a separate vote to approve the new data-entry position
in the assessor’s office, this time with a 6-0 count. The salary, which was
included in the requests, was set at $31,929.
Afterwards, Wichlinski gave the council a short presentation on retooling
the county’s Geographical Information System by adding layers such as
aerial/topographical imaging, well and septic, drainage planning and zoning.