Dispute continues over Housing Partnership’s late penalties

About two dozen properties owned by a nonprofit that creates affordable housing have been put on — and then taken off — a tax sale five separate times.

Although a special sale that includes 18 homes and lots owned by Housing Partnerships Inc. has been scheduled for next month, the administrator who oversees the nonprofit says he anticipates receiving a sixth temporary reprieve.

Nearly 90 properties, including those from HPI, are tentatively scheduled to be sold so the county can recover outstanding taxes or unpaid penalties. The sale has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 10 in the Bartholomew County Office Building, 400 Third St.

But legal notices state the sale will take place only if a court judgment to proceed is issued on or after Aug. 25.

“We are still pursuing our legal rights, and will object if the sale goes forward,” said Mark Lindenlaub, executive director of Thrive Alliance, which operates Housing Partnerships.

HPI has paid all past-due taxes on those properties, but it has not paid assessed penalties that exceed $230,000 for late payment, Bartholomew County Assessor Lew Wilson said.

Since there are no outstanding taxes involved, Wilson declined to publicly comment further on the matter.

In the latest chapter of a decade-long legal dispute regarding property-tax exemption denials from 2008 to 2016, a two-day hearing concluded Wednesday before the Indiana Board of Tax Review, Lindenlaub said.

A key point of contention is that there is no uniform definition of a charitable purpose being followed by all 92 of Indiana’s counties to determine exemptions, Lindenlaub said.

“We think we’ve made a strong case and hope the judgment is in our favor,” he said.

But more time-consuming steps lie ahead.

At the conclusion of last week’s hearings, HPI was given 75 days to file its summary. After the county receives a copy of the summary, it will be given an equal amount of time to make a response, according to state regulations.

Once the county submits its response, the law gives the Indiana Board of Tax Review 90 days to issue a decision.

“However, the board could allow themselves an additional 180 days,” Lindenlaub said. “So if you add it all up, it may take something like a year.”

As long as there were unresolved legal issues, local judges have not allowed the county to sell those properties, Lindenlaub said.

“They have agreed with our logic in the past, and we hope (the judge) continues to follow precedents already set,” he said.

It will likely be Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin who will conduct a hearing shortly after the Labor Day weekend for all petitioners — including HPI — to explain why their property shouldn’t be sold a week later, Bartholomew County Treasurer Pia O’Connor said.

“They can make their case there,” O’Connor said. “HPI will be treated no differently than anyone else.”

While a staff member for Benjamin anticipates the hearing will take place a week prior to the scheduled sale, an exact date and time has not yet been set, the staff member said.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.