Backgrounder: The Unspoken of Abatements

January 2, 2019

by David Penticuff

A councilman took our newspaper to task this week for criticizing the council on its apparent lack of curiosity regarding the granting of property-tax abatements.

It turns out we were wrong in that regard. Council members have a lot of information about the tax abatements they vote to grant. They just don’t share it in their public discussion.

In fact, the complaining councilman says the council has detailed documents before them at every request for abatement. The information shows that an apartment complex, for example, plans to spend about $1 million to build apartment buildings, and with tax abatement the owners of the property will pay $99,817 in property taxes over six years. The owner of a cleaners, who also received an abatement, will pay $12,548 in property taxes during the same period.

We are glad the council is not making these decisions in ignorance, and certainly our reporter will be fetching this information to report to local taxpayers whenever an abatement is brought before the council. For what the councilman did not volunteer at the public meeting was that the apartment owners are getting a $154,000 tax break with the abatement and the cleaner building owner was given about a $10,000 break.

That’s about $164,000 less in tax revenue for the city, schools and other entities during the next six years because of the abatement. And we still don’t know why.

A lot can be done with $164,000. Ask our police chief fighting crime, or the building commissioner trying to tear down slums. Could our community schools use the money? We think so.

So why provide tax breaks to these people? Is it because they are good people? Do other businesses owned by good people get to negotiate their property tax bills with the council? If not, why not? Were the apartments not going to be built without tax abatement?

The councilman wrote in his letter that we portrayed him and other council members as “clueless, uncaring bumpkins when we consider tax abatement requests.”

We said no such thing, and the editorial was not meant to personally disparage any council member. We are sorry if it did. But we can now declare without doubt that council members knew that they were voting to forego $160,000 in tax revenue and chose not to disclose it in their public discussion.

So the last paragraph of our editorial stands. “Let’s elect a council that will say no to abatements until it can be shown the abatements are justified.”

David Penticuff, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is editor of the Marion Chronicle-Tribune, in which a version of this essay was published.


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