Candidate challenges opponent’s residency in St. Joseph County Assessor race

Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 6:33 PM EDT
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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - Friday brought a reassessment of the assessor’s race in St. Joseph County.

One candidate claimed the other failed to meet the residency requirements needed to run in November.

The candidate in question, Republican Mike Castellon, bought a home in Port Charlotte, Fla., in March of last year and in April, downsized to an apartment in Mishawaka.

One needs to look no further than Facebook to see that Mike Castellon has been spending a lot of time in Florida.

16 pictures placing him in the Sunshine State between April of last year and June of this year were submitted as evidence at a hearing today by the St. Joseph County Election Board.

“Records show that in March of last year, Mr. Castellon and his wife Heather Fite, bought a four-bedroom, 2,200 square foot home for $329,000 in Port Charlotte Florida,” said the man who filed the challenge, the Democratic nominee for assessor—Ted Booker.

Records further show that Castellon’s wife, Heather Fite, applied for a residency-based homestead tax exemption on that home on December 30th of last year. The same records show Mike Castellon, the current Penn Township assessor, and candidate for St. Joseph County Assessor—did not.

“Under Florida law, when one spouse only applies for a homestead exemption on entireties property, property owned by a husband and wife, then you only get half the homestead exemption, which is the case here,” Attorney James Masters told the board.

“You know, like anybody else, we, everybody else, you know dreams of having a vacation home, and you know, she decided that she wanted to stay down there, but we knew I had to stay here. This is where I’ve, you know, sworn my oath to. This is where I was born and raised and I’ll continue to do the job for the county,” Castellon told 16 News Now after the hearing.

When pressed to specify how much time he spends in Florida, Castellon would only say he spends a “majority” of his time in St. Joseph County.

According to today’s testimony, there is no legal limit on how much vacation time an elected official can take, nor is there any requirement that a certain amount of time be spent in the office.

“I think the challenge was legitimate. I’m no legal expert and so I think that, you know, I respect the board’s decision. I did make the right move by bringing this information forward,” said Ted Booker.

In the end, time was on the side of Castellon who remains a candidate.

With the exception of a 20-year stint in the Navy, he has lived his entire life in St. Joseph County and said he has no plans to move to Florida.

The board heard that Castellon has an Indiana driver’s license and registration, Indiana bank accounts and insurance policies, and that he is registered to vote in Indiana.

Castellon called the residency challenge “grandstanding,” and emphasized that he is the only candidate in the race with on-the-job experience.

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