Now that the numbers have come in, the gloves have come off in the dispute between county and state officials over the late release of budget numbers needed to set property tax rates for St. Joseph County.
The state's Department of Local Government Finance announced late Thursday that it has approved the St. Joseph County budget for 2007. The approval, several months late, was needed before the rates could be set for 2006 taxes, payable in 2007.
Each side is blaming the other for the delay.
DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave issued a release Thursday pointing the finger at county officials.
"DLGF has worked diligently with county officials to issue the budget for the county, and now we expect county officials to do the same in getting bills to taxpayers as soon as possible," Musgrave said. "Issuing the tax bills quickly will ensure local units of government can get necessary funds for services and will ease the burden on taxpayers, who deserve to have time to plan."
Three county officials -- Auditor Michael Eby, Treasurer Sean Coleman and Assessor David Wesolowski -- fired back Friday with a joint release of their own.
They accused the DLGF of "holding St. Joseph County tax rates hostage since July, resulting in hundreds of millions of tax dollars going uncollected, increasing taxpayer anxiety and frustration, and costing cash-starved local governmental units tens of thousands of dollars in borrowing costs.''
"I think those are very harsh words that are politically motivated," Musgrave said Friday afternoon in a telephone call.
The local officials point to some evidence of disparate treatment in how the DLGF treated counties in northern Indiana, particularly Elkhart County. The consequences of tax bills arriving this late could be significant for candidates like Mayor Luecke. Mayor Peterson, a close ally of Daniels, even though he is a Democrat, received a major boost to his re-election bid when Daniels ordered a reassessment of Marion County and instructed taxpayers to pay taxes based on last year's assessments instead of the huge increases they were faced with paying. The chickens will come home to roost big time for Marion County taxpayers next year when they are forced to pay this year's tax increases, along with next year's tax bills.