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Assessors reassure ‘shocked’ property owners

More than 25,000 long-anticipated property reassessment statements were mailed Friday, and in many cases, reassessments doubled for residential and agricultural land and structures throughout Harrison County. For commercial property, the reassessments might not be so high.
But that doesn’t mean tax statements ‘ which are expected to be issued in about six weeks ‘ will double. Because Harrison County’s total assessed valuation will probably more than double, tax statements may not be near what people fear, said Harrison County Assessor Paul Saulman. Some property owners could even see a decrease in their taxes.
Saulman and Harrison Township Assessor Gerald Saulman (they’re second cousins) and their staffs were quite busy Monday handling many phone calls and a long line of property owners suffering from ‘sticker shock’ ‘ they couldn’t believe their land and structure reassessement statements (Form 11), most of which appeared in mailboxes Saturday.
‘The values the taxpayers see might be twice as much as they were in 2002. But don’t be alarmed,’ said Mark Folkerts, project manager for Cole-Layer Trumble Co. of Dayton, Ohio, which handled the reassessments for the county the past 2-1/2 years. Folkerts issued a statement Monday.
‘First of all, you need to look at the value and say, ‘Is this what I would take if someone wanted to buy my property?’ If not, then you should have no problem with the valuation. (In other words, if the figure is too low, or less than what you would take, don’t quibble with your statement.)
‘The first question somebody will ask is, ‘Will my taxes double since my assessment doubled?’ The answer is no.
‘At this time, we do not have the tax rates yet to determine the taxes a taxpayer will have to pay, but we know the tax rate has to come down and the exemptions that were received in previous years have increased to offset the increase in valuation. With all of this, I feel the taxpayers in Harrison County will not have more than a five to 15 percent increase.’
Saulman said the exemptions are the Homestead Credit (which went from $6,000 last year to a maximum of $35,000 this year) and the mortgage exemption, which went from $1,000 to $3,000. There are other exemptions as well, like the one for the elderly, which is based on income.
For example, if someone owns a home valued at $70,000 or less, and he or she filed this year (before the May 10 deadline) for the new Homestead Credit exemption, his home will be taxed on only half its value, $35,000.
That doesn’t mean there have been no mistakes made in assessing the value of land or property or both.
Saulman has started a list of property owners who have requested an informal hearing to appeal their reassessments. There were 16 names on the list yesterday morning. People who want a hearing with Folkerts can sign up at Saulman’s office on the third floor of the courthouse. The hearings will start July 14 and run for two weeks. They have 45 days to file an appeal (Form 130).
Their complaints will be given first to Folkerts, who will try to resolve the problem with the landowner. If that fails, the complaint will go to the township trustee assessor. And if that fails, it will go before the five-member property tax assessment board of appeals and then to the state.
Jerry Atkins, the postmaster at English and a former North Harrison school board member, owns several pieces of property with his wife, Johnnie. He said Monday in Saulman’s office that the reassessment ‘has made me a very wealthy man, at least on paper.’ He said the reassessed value of their house, built in 1995, almost doubled, which he thought officials had said would not happen with new homes. But he’s not complaining too much about that because that’s what his home is worth, he said.
However, he will appeal the reassessment on some apartments he owns in Ramsey. They are now valued at $399,000. ‘No one would pay that,’ he said, and he doesn’t think it’s fair market value, which is what this reassessment process is all about.
‘The problem is, with people renting those apartments, if the tax rate goes up, I will have no choice but to raise their rent which affects the people who can least afford it,’ Atkins said.
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that Indiana’s method of assessing property was unconstitutional. Since then, Gov. Frank L. O’Bannon’s office, the State Tax Board and the Indiana General Assembly have wrestled with finding a way to create a property tax structure that’s based on fair market value but won’t make it impossible for some homeowners, especially older people with large homes, to stay in their homes.
Some counties have not yet finished their reassessments. When they’re finished, auditors and assessors will reconcile their figures and send a statement to the state, which will then certify the values, consider the state budget, and then determine property tax rates, Folkerts said.
‘Last year we paid $2.31 per $100 of assessed valuation,’ Saulman said. ‘Each township is different, but this year, the amount has increased ‘ it looks like Harrison County could go from about $278 million last year to $575 million this year, so the rate’s got to come down. I’m hoping it will be not too much over $1.’
So, theoretically, the owner of that $70,000 home with a homestead exemption of $35,000 may be looking at a property tax bill of $350, although no one knows for sure now.