Assessor’s office looks into Gary energy site boost in value
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent March 5, 2013 6:20PM
TIF money at stake
If it stands, the $6 million valuation for the property at 201 Waite St. could be a boon for Gary.
The property is in the Gary Airport Development Zone, a tax increment financing area. The potentially faulty $6 million valuation from Collins’ office appears to have boosted the TIF by showing a $5.7 million addition to the TIF’s overall value.
Municipalities create TIFs to draw investment to underutilized areas. They begin with a base value, and as value there increases, with new buildings, for example, the increases in taxes go into special funds that can be used to pay off municipal bonds or needs such as infrastructure.
The more money in a TIF, the more a municipality has available for specific uses, but the money is available only if taxes are paid on the properties in the TIFs.
If a property owner chooses to appeal its assessment, that delays or changes the amount of money in that TIF.
Updated: April 7, 2013 6:30AM
GARY — Calumet Township Assessor Jacqueline Collins is putting the brakes on a recent property assessment valuation that multiplied a former industrial site’s value eight-fold based on a possibly flawed document.
A downstate company is eyeing the site reportedly to build an alternative energy facility, something that has drawn city officials’ attention and put the project on a fast track.
Edward Gholson, Collins’ chief deputy, on Monday said an employee entered a $6 million value on the 28-acre former Georgia Pacific plant, 201 Waite St., even though the office already had flagged the sales disclosure form as having a questionable sales price.
“We are kind of reviewing it at this point,” Gholson said, following discussions with a Post-Tribune reporter. “The disclosure form was marked invalid and used as though it was a valid sale, so we are going to review that.”
Gholson also said he is trying to determine if the property’s new owner, VC Energy, with offices in Chicago, Indianapolis and Las Vegas, filed an assessment appeal in time. Gary Renewable Energy Plant LLC, a new company, would rent the property from VC to build an anaerobic digester, a system that burns organic waste for energy production.
VC officials could not be reached for comment.
Collins confirmed Monday her office valued the long-shuttered plant on the city’s northwest side at $6 million for 2012, about eight times the 2011 valuation of $750,000, based on the sales disclosure form.
Assessors use sales disclosure forms as tools to determine valuations for taxing purposes, but for a number of reasons such forms can be deemed invalid and not used. In the case of the VC Energy purchase, a lawyer filed the sales disclosure form with the Lake County Assessor’s office, which then forwarded it to Collins.
Once a township assessor employee deemed the disclosure form invalid, it should not have been used for the valuation, Gholson said.
He promised the office would investigate the assessed valuation and the use of the invalid form to determine the next steps.
It was unclear if the employee’s work was checked and approved by a supervisor when the assessment was set, but the worker should have looked for more information, Collins said.
“Could this one maybe have been overlooked? It’s possible, but I really can’t say for sure,” Collins said, adding her team has to enter about 70,000 valuations and expected at least 4,000 appeals after last year’s revaluation of the entire township.
“I think (the employee) just looked at the sales price, but the employee would have considered more than just the disclosure.”