The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 14, 2020 1:00 am

Township assessor bill dies

13 offices to remain open

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – An effort to eliminate the 13 remaining township assessor offices appears dead after a Senate chairman decided not to take a vote on a controversial bill Thursday.

Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, said he doesn't approve of taking people out of the equation, and had a hearing to give those supporting township assessors the chance to have their say. But he said he didn't want to embarrass the author of the bill with a vote. Instead, he tabled it.

Lawmakers abolished 965 township assessors as part of a major property tax restructuring back in 2008. But legislators gave voters the right to weigh in on the townships with the largest number of parcels.

Forty-three township assessor offices went to the ballot and Hoosiers kept 13 in nine counties while shifting the duties of the 30 others to the county assessor.

“The people spoke. Period,” Buck said. “I do not like the legislature being the executioner of offices that the people chose to keep.”

That means House Bill 1027 is dead though the language is eligible to be revived because it passed the House. That vote was slim – 53-44.

Wayne Township is one of the remaining 13. The office has an annual budget of almost $700,000, which covers 12 full-time employees including the assessor. The township is in charge of assessing more than 46,000 parcels of land. No one from Wayne Township testified. 

Only one entity supported the bill – the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

Rep. Karen Engleman, R-Georgetown, quoted a 2009 state report that said county assessors outperformed their township colleagues on timeliness, cost and quality.

And several township assessors said the report – which largely looked at transition – is more than a decade old, and there is no current data to show these 13 township assessors are not properly doing their jobs.

Angela Guernsey – the Ross Township Assessor in Lake County – said her township has more parcels than 28 counties. They handle sales disclosures, ratio studies, appeals, business personal property tax filings and building permit issues.

“Our presence is needed to serve our taxpayers with the best service in the most efficient way,” she said.

Michael Castellon – the Penn Township assessor in St. Joseph County – said he has no backlogged appeals while the county has thousands.

“The bill has no merit. There is no current tangible evidence and is misleading,” he said.

Castellon pointed to one lawmaker saying the bill would save $2.1 million in Lake County. He said that is the total of all five township assessing budgets. But the work must still be done so that number isn't realistic, he said.

“I do not know of any township assessors that have been reprimanded for not being compliant,” he said. “To infer we aren't meeting obligations ... is absurd.”

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said the Legislature forced Marion County to consolidate all township assessors and he pointed out much of the work is now done by contractors.

He questioned how to gauge between the private interest of a person with a contract and the public interest in getting an assessment right.

“It always concerns me when we don't let the locals make these kinds of decisions,” Taylor said. “This is a huge overreach of state government in my opinion.”

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