Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chase: Bad Government have Lake County Taxpayers over Barrel

By Marc Chase in the Northwest Indiana Times:

How does it feel to be swinging over a barrel, Lake County? Is the redness in our faces from the blood-rush of hanging upside down over the barrel, or is it the hot facial plume of embarrassment?
Take a moment and document the sensation brought on by generations of bad-government habits of county leaders that opened the door for a convicted criminal to victimize taxpayers in an ongoing saga.
County commissioners continually deem it necessary for third-party tax collectors -- usually attorneys hired with the enticement of up to six-figure commissions -- to do the work of the county treasurer's office in collecting delinquent taxes. The treasurer's office, with its 37 employees and $1.8 million budget, can't get the job done without hiring virtual bounty hunters.
Now one of these former tax-collecting contractors, Roosevelt Powell, truly has us over a barrel. If government habits don't change, what's to keep us all from ending up in the barrel and plummeting over the falls?
You see, Powell is a convicted felon. He was found guilty in a 2007 conspiracy after defrauding county government -- and its taxpayers -- of nearly $60,000 in an elaborate Gary real estate scheme.
Powell served his two years in prison, but the saga wasn't over for taxpayers. It isn't over today, either.
No, Powell -- a one-time chum of former county commissioner and Gary Mayor Rudy Clay -- sued the county last year, claiming its government owed him more than $1 million in fees from his time as a tax collector.
Six months ago, Lake Superior Court Judge Calvin D. Hawkins awarded Powell's firm a $1.4 million judgment against the county.
The county is now appealing the ruling -- meaning more cost and legal wrangling -- as the taxpayers hang helplessly over the barrel. Right now, we can hope the county wins on appeal, but taxpayers have zero control over the outcome.
So how does that feel? Are you the slightest bit upset? Will you hold your leaders accountable for fixing the problem?
The redness in our faces should be from anger, not from swinging upside down over a figurative wooden vessel. Before his conviction, the county paid Powell more than $4 million in tax-collectiong commissions in 2006, all part of deals brokered by the commissioners of that era.
Late last year, the county inked contracts with a new generation of five third-party tax collectors, offering them hundreds of thousands in county taxpayer dollars to perform the work of the already taxpayer-funded Lake County treasurer's office.
This saga is bound to continue until Lake County voters demand differently of their elected leaders.