|By Bill Dolan, The Times, Munster,
Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 14, 2013--CROWN POINT -- Ameristar Casino Hotel of East Chicago wants better odds at lower taxes by getting county officials to stop charging for 10 floors of non-existent rooms.
George Uzelac, a veteran tax representative, asked the Lake County Property Tax Board of Appeal Board Wednesday to reduce the assessment on the luxury accommodations overlooking Lake Michigan to $82.5 million from $104 million, because its property value is overstated by hundreds of thousands of square feet that aren't there.
"They are claiming it's a 25-story hotel instead of the 15-story hotel it is," Peter Salveson, an associate tax representative, said.
Uzelac said it was a mistake made 10 years ago by Cole Layer Trumble, a Dayton, Ohio-based firm the state hired, over the objections of the locally elected assessor, to perform a general reassessment that resulted in dramatically higher property tax bills for tens of thousands in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Whiting.
He convinced the five-member appeals board to delay a decision on their appeal for 30 days. "We will go with the assessor's staff to measure the building and put this to bed for once and all," Uzelac said.
Lake County Attorney John Dull, representing the county assessor's office, said the phantom floors are irrelevant because the hotel's value for taxing purposes are correctly based on Harrah's sale of the the casino and hotel's sale eight years ago.
Resorts acquired the casino hotel in 2005 and Ameristar took over two years later.
Lake County Assessor Hank Adams chided the appeals board for entertaining such an old appeal. "This is absolutely ridiculous. This is why we are in such bad shape," Adams complained.
He wants the county board to reject the appeal and move the appeal to the state level, where the city of East Chicago has hired a North Carolina law firm to defend the city and the county from having to comp Ameristar with a large tax refund.
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