Township Assessors Protest Budget Eliminations

(posted August 29)

City Controller David Reynolds' action to exclude township assessors from having a 2009 budget set a fiery course of discussion during the City County Council's Administration and Finance Committee budget hearing on August 26. The budget was chopped from nearly $10 million to $6.9 million with all the money funneled into the Marion County Assessor's office. Reynolds defended the move, saying it would save an estimated $3.2 million in the budget.

Wayne Township Assessor Michael McCormack asked if it was unlawful not to give township assessors a budget, since the referendum to determine if the townships assessors would be consolidated into the county assessor's control won't be decided until the November election. The vote is not a unilateral sweep, but by individual township.

McCormack said the proposed referendum is a stepping stone to consolidate schools, fire and police. It is his fear that the consolidation is really a move toward an authoritarian government with the governor in control. "The way they got it set up, you are taking the power away from the people," he said.

Pat Andrew of Decatur Township said that Decatur Township will not be voting on the referendum due to HEA 1001 requiring townships with less than 15,000 parcels be absorbed by the county assessor. She said "Decatur Township got the shaft" as a result of HEA 1001.

Councilor Mary Moriarty Adams expressed her concern that if the township assessors do survive the referendum they will not have enough money to operate if each budget is reduced by $375,000.

County Assessor Greg Bowes urged consolidation, saying that it would create a more uniform standard for assessing values across the county. He depicted several similar commercial buildings located in different areas of the county, highlighting their different assessed values.

Andrews disagreed. She explained the difference in value has to do with location, not because of a township assessor's qualifications. She emphasized that her Decatur Township home would have a higher assessment in Washington Township. She said it would be unfair to give a uniform assessment across the county if they are using a market value system. She stressed that location is market value.

City County Councilor Ryan Vaughn contends Center Township has under assessed property values for years. The taxpayers in the surrounding townships have to make up and carry the tax burden for Center Township to fund the budget. "I live in Washington Township. I am powerless because I have no vote on who the Center Township assessor is."

"How do we remedy that without going to a county wide system?" he asked.

Retired CPA Dee Saul said Indiana law "gives the county assessor a duty to equalize the taxes as assessed in the different townships." Saul warned that consolidation would put that remedy at risk, because the county assessor would be equalizing his own work. Saul told the committee it would be a loss of "checks and balances." He contends the assessing problems are created from "flawed instructions coming out of the DLGF", caused by their system of using land values and construction costs from 1999, and deprecation tables that fail to met standards set by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

Bowes agreed that the county assessor can administer the equalization factor, but it delays the assessment process.