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Auditors scramble to find way to refund part of property taxes

Auditors around the state are trying to find a way to implement a new law that gives property owners a one-time tax refund this year. And they are anything but happy about the plan they say is confusing and costly if not impossible to implement.
‘I know this seems very harsh; however, what has taken place, and the mayhem it will cause is each county is almost more than we can comprehend,’ said Harrison County Auditor Patricia A. Wolfe in a letter to state legislators.
‘I believe state government has gone amuck, and all the auditors and their staffs will be proclaiming it loud and clear as we go into 2008,’ she said.
The new law does not include reimbursement of expenses.
The problem is that the funding for the tax refund is to come from dollars raised by the state from licensing of gambling slot machines at race tracks, and no one knows how much that will be, Wolfe said.
Added to that, the refund won’t be calculated on the property tax bill as a tax credit; rather, it must be paid by check sent to the mortgage holder if yearly taxes are paid into escrow, or to the latest property owner of record who is not delinquent on their property taxes. In that event, the money is to be credited to the past-due taxes, Wolfe said.
Harrison County has 10,000 parcels of real estate and averages 75 transfers of ownership a week, which makes it nearly impossible to maintain a current ownership list, Wolfe said.
‘Between the cost of labor, the cost of postage, the cost of the checks and cartridges to print the checks, and possibly computer upgrades, the taxpayers are getting the shaft and the auditors are, too,’ Wolfe said. ‘Please tell me something can be done.’
State Rep. Paul Robertson, D-Depauw, said the provision, which is contained in the bi-partisan budget bill passed April 29, prompted no concerns during the legislative debate. ‘There were people in the General Assembly who served in county government, and they didn’t say anything,’ Robertson said. ‘None of that was brought to anybody’s attention.’
State Sen. Richard Young, D-Milltown, could not be reached yesterday.
Robertson said he’s currently checking with the legislators to determine if anything needs to be done, possibly with the implementation of the new law. It’s not at all likely that the governor would call a special session of the legislature to make changes in the law.
In the meantime, at least part of the problem might be resolved, and that involves a computerized method of importing the necessary data.
‘I have found a way that is relatively easy to compute all of the refunds for Adams County,’ said Adams County Auditor William A. Borne, in an e-mail to other auditors. ‘All I need now is to find out the new homestead replacement credit rates and upon entering them in my tax table I will have all the data I need to write the refund checks.
‘I will gladly share this sheet with anyone who wants it for their review.’
Harrison County First Deputy Auditor Heather Metcalf said yesterday that a computer software representative is checking to see if this county’s 10,000 parcels, owners, addresses and other data can be imported into the Open Windows Financials AP system used by the Harrison County Auditor’s office.
That will not resolve all of the problems but it will help, she said.
Clinton County Auditor Jacque Clements said the law also calls for a statement to be included with the refund that says: ‘A portion of your local property taxes due in 2007 are being refunded due to tax relief provided by the Indiana General Assembly … ‘
Wolfe likened that statement to campaign literature.
Adding to the chaos, said Wolfe, is the fact that assessors and auditors are still trying to implement the state’s new trending system in determining and setting property values. Plus, the new requirement comes at a time when normal tax collection makes auditors’ and treasurers’ offices ‘very busy.’
Property tax bills will be late against this year due to the problems with reassessment, but property owners are being encouraged to pay the same as last year in advance. Statements normally would have been sent out in time for the first installment of half of the bill to be paid by May 10. The balance is usually due Nov. 10.