Chesterton Tribune

State says no: Auditor drops amnesty for homestead violators

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

A proposed attempt by the Porter County Auditor offer amensty for multi-family structures in violation of the homestead credit has been halted.

Auditor Robert Wichlinski said he was notified by Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) on Monday that there is no provision in the state statute that gives him the option to waive back taxes and penalties on properties where the owners have wrongfully placed their homestead credit on an entire multi-family unit building.

Homestead credit on such structures such as apartments and duplexes can only apply to the portion where the owner primarily resides.

However, it is almost impossible, Wichlinski said, to determine if owners deliberately violated the credit rule when they filled out the forms.

Wichlinski notified the local press last Thursday after notices on the violations were sent out to multi-unit property owners and laid out a plan to get their situations straightened out.

Wichlinski’s plan was to have each property corrected by the time the 2012 pay 2013 tax bills come out. If taxpayers verified their records with the auditor by the end of this year, they would not have had to pay the three years of back taxes, interest and penalties. Those who did not contact the auditor’s office about the correction would not receive the tax breaks.

A resident questioned the legality of the measure after reading about it in a news story and contacted the DLGF for an opinion. Catherine Wolter, general counsel for the DLGF, said there is no state law in existence that gives such power to county government.

“We were not aware of any authority given to a county auditor to ‘waive’ or grant ‘amnesty’ with respect to that requirement,” Wolter told the Chesterton Tribune this morning. “The statute requires recoupment of a deduction received in violation of the requirements for such a deduction.”

Wichlinski said he made up the plan wanting to be “equitable” to all those in question. He said he will now work with the county assessor’s office to acquire all the needed records to determine the tax value as accurately as possible for next year’s tax bills. It will take more time on his part, Wichlinksi said, but the DLGF has also agreed to assist in the effort which will also include homestead violations on single-family residences.

The auditor has made it one of his objectives in the county’s Total Quality Management (TQM) initiative to collect money due to the county from homestead violations and so far has recaptured an estimated $1.52 million for mostly single-family residences.

The money collected goes into the auditor’s non-reverting fund created for TQM last year.

The county has billed out $2.6 million in homestead fraud with $120,000 in penalties that will go to the state.

 

Posted 5/1/2012