County Government 101 was a recurring column written by former Decatur County Assessor, Tami Wenning, about issues affecting your county government.
February 20, 2009
I spent an interesting afternoon and evening at a Senate hearing concerning a bill designed to "improve" county government. I came away from the marathon discussion of SB 506 a little better educated on the process but not overly impressed. I couldn't quit thinking about what I'd witnessed and the gut-feeling I had after I left. So, I decided I needed to start sharing some of what I see going on in government with you. It really is scary and it is too big a story to tell all in one sitting. If you're interested, I'd like to start providing you with some inside information on what is going on in our fine state.
First off, I walked out of the statehouse with the impression that state government doesn't think the taxpayers of Indiana are smart enough to understand how their local government works. They don't think you know who to turn to when you have a problem. So, this Senate bill is going to fix that for you. They'd like to reorganize your local government and take away some of that huge responsibility from voters who don't know who they're voting for. There were people testifying both ways at this hearing but in the long run, the words of common sense and common people were ignored and the proposed bill passed by a vote of 6 -5 and will now make its way into a full Senate hearing. I wasn't alone at that hearing. Lots of county officials from all over the state were there but only a few were allowed time to speak. I rode up with County Treasurer Rita Burkert and County Recorder Mary Vail. Both of them can tell you how they felt about the hearing and it'll sound a lot like what you're hearing from me. A truly ironic thing happened when one of the senators on the committee finally spoke up. After much of the testifying from the yeas and the nays was complete, a Senator Landske from Lake County spoke up. She pointed out that Lake County is unique compared to the rest of the state and she felt that Lake County should be granted an exemption from this particular legislation. So, the amended version of the bill says that Lake County shall be exempt from this legislation. Then, when the vote was taken, it was 6 - 5. The Senator from Lake County cast a yes vote for legislation that her county will be exempt from. The rest of us may be subject to legislation that will change elected positions to appointed positions, and a whole host of other changes, but her county will be exempt because they are different.
Senate Bill 506 (amended version) has language eliminating elected county assessors and creating appointed assessors. Most of the amended bill and the Senate debate dealt with a single county executive and a "board of supervisors" [county council]. I'm not against change if it can improve things but I just didn't like the implication that local voters need state government to make accessing local government "easier". It was also interesting to note that all of those voting for this bill are from larger counties with big cities. If you want to hear more, I'm interested in filling you in on details of just how efficient some of the state decisions have really turned out to be. I can also explain why it is now so hard to get tax bills out in a timely fashion. What I can't explain is how positions at the state level that are elected by voters decide that they know what is best for us instead of listening to what it is we really need. I do want to point out to you that our newly elected Senator Jean Leising is not on this committee and does care about what we want to see done. If you want to share your opinion with us, you can call the assessor's office 812-663-4868 or e-mail the assessor at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in looking at this particular bill and you have the internet, you can log onto this site and plug in any House or Senate bill number and it'll give you the latest version. Go to http://www.in.gov/apps/lsa/session/billwatch/billinfo. If typing that into the computer doesn't get you discouraged, reading the amended bill might. I plan on doing my job until they take it away. Until that point, I am your elected Assessor and if you need me, you know where to find me. Thanks for "listening" to me vent!
Written and submitted by Tami Wenning, Former County Assessor (812-663-4868)
March 16, 2009
Oh my gosh, you came back for more! Did you find anything from us in your mailbox this weekend? Personal property forms were mailed out on Friday, March 13th. Staff from your county assessor's office will soon be coming to a location near you. Realizing that it is hard for people to make it to the courthouse during our business hours, we're going to try and visit different locations throughout the county. We'll be announcing locations on WTRE and on this website. You can also call our office to check on our schedule. In addition to coming to your area some evening, we'll also open our office at the courthouse on a couple of Saturdays. As soon as we have our schedule figured out, we'll share it with you.
Please remember that Personal Property is a self-assessment. If you have property that you use while involved in a money-making scenario, that equipment should be taxed. If you need help in determining the value of your property, we can help you. The important thing to remember is to be fair to yourself and everyone else when reporting your property. IF everyone reported what they were supposed to report, we'd have a higher assessed value as a community and our tax rates would be lower. If everyone was fair and honest about it, we'd all get to pay a little less. It's kind of like when people cheat their insurance companies and make claims on things that they shouldn't... those kinds of claims make everyone's rates go up. Our community has to raise a certain amount of money to meet the budget requirements of all of the government offices and their services. Believe it or not, your county government is very frugal and does look at each office's budget requests very closely. We're all pinching pennies so we don't run out of money before the end of the year. So, when our office determines the assessed value of the personal property AND all of the real (land and things built upon the land... aka "improvements") property, it is our responsibility to report the overall assessed value (AV) of all property in Decatur County to the Auditors office. The Auditors office then takes off all of the deductions, exemptions and abatement amounts to see how much AV is left. The remaining amount of taxable value is what is used to determine what our tax rates will be. The more assessed value there is, the lower the tax rate can be. Overall, enough money has to be generated to cover the budget estimates.
Somehow, I think I'm the unofficial tour guide for the courthouse. When some of the local schools decide to bring students here, they usually call and ask if I can give the "tour". There are a couple of points I always try to make. One is that this courthouse exists to serve the people of Decatur County. We are supposed to be here to help you and overall, this courthouse is responsible for maintaining a record of all of the important decisions made in this community. The buying and selling of land, court decisions, the assessment of property and the collection of taxes so that your government can continue to function are just a few of the responsibilities we have. We work for you and we work for ourselves. We pay taxes too. I take it personally when someone doesn't get the help they need in this building. So, I always tell my young "tourists" that we work for them and their parents and I explain what each office does. I also advise them to always wear their seat belts and to not get tickets, but if they do... pay the darn thing on time because it is a heck of a mess to clean up if it gets beyond the county level. So, you've just got my best advice in a nutshell. But, seriously, if you need help, it might not be something our office can do for you but we can at least guide you in the right direction. Don't be bashful about asking for help. I'm usually confused, too! Have a great week and don't forget those personal property forms.
March 16, 2009
(d) For a general reassessment that begins on or after July 1, 2009, the assessed value of real property shall be based on the estimated true tax value of the property on the assessment date that is the basis for taxes payable in the year following the year in which the general reassessment is to be completed.
I should offer a prize to the first person who can explain to me what that means! In a legislative update that is supposed to tell county officials what exactly transpired during the recently ended legislative session, the paragraph is one of the things that is supposed to affect County Assessors. I guess we'll be affected even if we can't figure out what the heck the state is talking about.
Oh, by the time you're reading this, we'll be counting down the last few days of personal property filings. Our office put in 84 hours of overtime so that we could have extra hours available for taxpayers to file. We visited every volunteer fire department in the county and held evening hours. Ads were in the newspaper, on the radio and on this website. We opened the courthouse for two full Saturdays. Less than 25 taxpayers took advantage of the extra hours. You don't even want to do the math on what it cost for us to offer extra hours and locations. I guess we learned what not to do.
We were going to place calls to all of the people who hadn't yet filed. We hate to see them have to pay the late filing fee. But, we did mail the forms to them. We did put reminders in the newspaper and the filing deadline hasn't changed in forever. It is kind of like the April 15th deadline for your IRS filings. Everyone knows that is the date. But, people forgot so we've got some that have to pay the late fee imposed by the state.
We really didn't want to do that to anyone.
I actually started writing this in May and now it is July and I'm going to finish it up and get it sent. It is amazing to me how fast time goes by. I'm proud of the ladies in my office for the great job they are doing. We are trying our darnedest to get back on the schedule that would allow on-time tax billing. The state has demanded that all counties comply with their deadlines, but then they add more stuff to the process and make it impossible to meet their deadlines if we're going to get everything done properly. I've been in this office for three years now and we're closer than we've ever been. The big question of the day is when will the tax bills go out. The latest I've heard from the Auditor's office is she's waiting on City Hall to review something to do with TIF districts. She's hopeful that statements may mail out in early August with a late August or early September due date for the first installment and the second installment will be due on the traditional date of November 10th.
With that being said, our office is already close to being able to send our next round of values to the Auditor. We're about 6 - 8 months ahead of last year. We've worked hard to do everything asked of us by the state. Just for kicks, I have forwarded a copy of a memo sent to us by the state this week. If you're really bored, check it out. Obviously, if we were rocket scientists, we would be employed by NASA. Since we're not, we're here doing the best that we can. Read this memo but I should caution you to take an aspirin first.