St. Joseph County Election Board denies residency ballot challenge to Republican assessor candidate
The St. Joseph County Election Board voted unanimously Friday to keep Republican county assessor candidate Mike Castellon on the November ballot. Castellon — the current Penn Township assessor — had faced a challenge over his residency.
The challenge was brought by Democratic candidate Ted Booker, who currently works for the Elkhart County Assessor’s office. Booker claimed Castellon was violating state law, which requires assessors to reside in the county they plan to represent for at least one year before the election and own real estate there.
Booker currently rents an apartment in South Bend’s Irish Hills complex, and said he plans to purchase real property in the county “in the near term” before the November election.
Castellon rents an apartment at the Autumn Lakes complex in Mishawaka — and purchased a vacant, overgrown lot on South Bend’s West Side earlier this year for $10 — but Booker argued that his permanent residence is a home he and his wife purchased last year in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Castellon’s wife had successfully applied for and received a Florida homestead tax exemption, which legally means the home is her primary residence. But Booker said since the couple jointly own the property and are married, the exemption covers Castellon as well — making him a resident of Florida.
In response, Castellon’s attorney James Masters said Florida law allows married couples to have separate permanent residences and separate homestead tax exemptions. In addition, Masters said other records including bank accounts, driver’s license and voter registration all establish Castellon’s Indiana residency.
“Nothing has changed in terms of Mr. Castellon’s residency,” Masters said. “He is fully eligible to be the next assessor in St. Joseph County.”
Castellon said that apart from when he served in the Navy, he’s been a lifelong resident of the county and considers the Florida house his vacation home that he hopes to retire to someday.
He does spend some time in Florida — typically flying down on Thursdays and back on Sundays or Tuesdays and “often” working remotely while there — but said the majority of his time is in Indiana due to his work as Penn Township Assessor.
Election board member Charles Leone said there was “clearly evidence on both sides” in the case, and that Castellon spends a significant amount of time in Florida.
“Something less than half a year, couldn’t quite get a good feel with that,” Leone said.
But Leone said Indiana law presumes that people are residents when they legally declare themselves to be — and that Booker didn’t provide sufficient evidence to overcome that.
“There is a substantial amount of evidence that relates to Mr. Castellon’s presence in St. Joseph County, the fact that he has been here for a long time,” Leone said.
With the challenge unanimously denied, Booker will face Castellon this November in the county assessor’s race, as longtime Democratic assessor Rosemary Mandrici is stepping down.
The election comes on the heels of a hot real estate market that led to 90 percent of county property owners getting increases in assessed value this year.
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