Judge to rule on adding Hobart to Lake tax levy suit
By Christin Nance Lazerus email@example.com September 6, 2012 5:40PM
Updated: October 9, 2012 2:42PM
Lake County Superior Court Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider is considering a motion that would add the city of Hobart to a suit challenging the state’s levy freeze on Lake County.
The parties had a hearing on Thursday afternoon, and Schneider said that she needs some time to deliberate on the matter. She said both the state and Hobart must file briefs on the motion by Sept. 25. Schneider set a tentative hearing date of Oct. 23 to rule on the motion.
“I don’t want to rule from the bench on something of this import (today),” Schneider said.
Lake County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief Dan Murchek, who is president of the police union, and Officer Robert Klasner, president of the FOP Anton Lodge 125, filed the suit against the state and the Department of Local Government Finance in August 2011, challenging the state’s right to impose tax rules on Lake County separate from the rest of the state. The state decided to freeze the county’s levy in 2007 until officials pass an option income tax; Lake County is the only county in the state without an income tax.
Hobart city attorney Anthony DeBonis said municipalities across the county are feeling the squeeze of the frozen levy.
“Hobart has lost $2 million of its levy and the future is not promising,” DeBonis said. “The cost of prividing services has not abated, but the General Assembly in its lack of infinite wisdom has taken away the (6 percent) growth.”
DeBonis said the state’s move runs afoul of the state constitution, which says that state tax laws should be uniform in their application.
Jess Reagan, the attorney representing the state and DLGF, opposed the motion, arguing that previous cases determined that parties cannot bring up additional issues in their motions to join a case. Reagan also said that by allowing Hobart to join the case would open it up to every other municipality in Lake County, thus delaying the start of the trial.
“We ask the court to either deny the motion or strike the additional materials as immaterial,” Reagan said.
Hobart City Council president Dave Vinzant said the city decided to enter the suit because the levy is causing officials to cut vital city services.
“We recently closed a fire station because we can’t afford to staff it,” Vinzant said. “It’s not as if we’ve shrunk in population.”