County seeks to enforce homestead compliance

COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County’s auditor is taking steps to make sure residents don’t commit homestead fraud — either intentionally or inadvertently.County Auditor Jen McGuire said this week her office is sending out “soft letters” to residents who she said could be claiming the standard homestead deduction on residences in more than one county.“We want to make sure they’re not double-dipping,” McGuire said.Indiana state law reads that individuals and married couples are limited to one homestead standard deduction.McGuire said Homestead Verification Forms were received in 2010, but participation was sparse, countywide.“Only 40 percent were turned in last year,” she said. “We don’t even have half of them back.”She said her office would be sending out about 60 of the so-called “soft letters” to people who are believed to have multiple residences in more than one county.According to the Indiana government website, House Enrolled Act 1344-2009 “requires taxpayers who receive the homestead standard deduction to verify that they are eligible to receive the benefit and to provide additional identifying information necessary to allow county government to better monitor homestead filings. The letter being drafted by the county explains to residents the deduction is only “permissible for a dwelling and up to one acre of land that immediately surrounds the real estate, that serves as the individual’s principle place of residence.”According to McGuire, violators will be liable for back taxes and could pay a civil penalty.