Indiana Writers Group column for release at noon Oct. 27 and thereafter (829 words)
Editors: Column body is 602 words; list of property tax hearings is 226 and may be cut
Expect property taxes to be back in the headlines now that November bills are due. Some homeowners are understandably dismayed their property values are rising at a time when the housing market is struggling.
One Indianapolis resident saw his assessed value jump by nearly $66,000 accompanied by a tax increase of $1,600. His story was not unusual in his historic Northside neighborhood where many experienced valuation increases of 10 percent or higher. “Anyone who has not been hiding under a rock knows property values certainly did not increase in the past year,” he said.
When he called the assessor’s office with questions, he was told the increase was based on recent sales in his neighborhood.
In Allen County, more than 13,000 property owners received notices that their assessed value had gone up 10 percent or more, which will mean higher tax bills on their spring installments, The News-Sentinel reported. Assessed value rose for 31 percent of county residents. County Assessor Stacey O’Day said the increases were the result of several factors including a change in law that allowed assessors to update property values every year based on sales prices for comparable homes. Also, the sales data used to compute new assessments preceded the worst of the recession.
Such stories almost guarantee that property taxes will be back on the radar screen of the 2010 Indiana General Assembly. First on the agenda is SJR 1: the proposed constitutional amendment to cap property taxes at 1 percent of a home’s value, 2 percent of a farm’s value and 3 percent of a business’s value.
The amendment passed the legislature in 2008 after a summer of tax rallies protesting 2007 reassessment and exorbitant tax hikes. But a constitutional amendment cannot take effect until it’s approved by two consecutive sessions of the legislature and by voters in a referendum.
Last year the measure failed to advance when House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, refused to allow a House vote. Bauer said wanted to wait a year to judge the impact of statutory tax caps approved by the legislature.
Whether tax caps are statutory or constitutional, lawmakers must make sure that assessors don’t pervert their intent through ridiculous increases in assessed valuation. There’s just no reason a house’s value should rise more than the related inflation index.
Between now and Jan. 5, when the session convenes, the citizens group Watchdog Indiana has planned a series of public meetings where lawmakers and constituents can come together to discuss property taxes in general and the tax cap in particular.
Watchdog leader Aaron Smith had hoped for 60 such sessions featuring all 150 legislators in every corner of the state, but has settled for less due to logistical issues. Forums have been held in Clarksville, Greenfield and Shipshewana; another half dozen are scheduled and a few more are in the works.
So far they’ve been informative, Smith says. “The audience questions have been asked in a satisfactorily respectful manner. While many audience members have been older Hoosiers, there has been a pretty good mix: homeowners, realtors, elected officials, farmers, firemen, business owners … Audience response at the end of the meetings have been slightly to overwhelmingly in favor of putting the property tax caps in the Indiana Constitution.”
Smith was pleased that almost half of all legislators from both parties indicated a willingness to serve on discussion panels but disappointed that neither Gov. Mitch Daniels nor Speaker Bauer have responded to invitations.
Upcoming sessions will be an ideal time for homeowners to share stories from their most recent billing cycle. Dates, locations and lawmakers who have committed to attend include:
- Oct. 29, 7 p.m. – Greencastle – Sen. Connie Lawson (R) and Rep. Nancy Michael (D). Hosted by the Putnam County Board of REALTORS in the cafeteria at the Tzouanakis Intermediate School, 500 Linwood Drive.
- Nov. 10, 7 p.m. – Indianapolis – Sen. Greg Taylor (D) and Reps. John Bartlett (D) and Brian Bosma (R). Hosted by Trinity Episcopal Church and St. Richard’s School in the Fortune Room at the church, 3243 N. Meridian Street.
- Nov. 12, 7 p.m. – Muncie – Reps. Bill Davis and Jack Lutz (R). Hosted by the Citizens of Delaware County for Property Tax Repeal in the auditorium of the Northside Middle School, 2400 W. Bethel Avenue.
- Dec. 1, 7 p.m. – Indianapolis – Sens. Jean Breaux (D), Scott Schneider (R) and Greg Taylor (D); and Reps. Ed DeLaney (D) and Cindy Noe (R). Hosted by the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association at the Basile Opera Center, 4011 N. Pennsylvania Street.
- Dec. 3, 7 p.m. – Fulton – Sen. Randy Head (R) and Rep. Douglas Gutwein (R). Hosted by the Caston School Corporation in the cafeteria at Caston Elementary and Jr.-Sr. High Schools, 9815 South State Road 25.
- Dec. 10, 7 p.m. – Fort Wayne – Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R), Sen. Thomas Wyss (R), Reps. Matt Bell, Randy Borror, and Phyllis Pond (R) in Meeting Room AB at the Allen County Public Library, 900 Library Plaza.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com.