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County should not be penalized for state’s decision

The Harrison County Council, at its meeting last week, discussed whether to pay the county’s township assessors salaries, a topic that seemingly never goes away.
During budget sessions in August, the council voted to pay the salaries, but when it came time to sign the salary ordinance last month, the county’s fiscal body reversed its decision by a slim 4-3 margin. Now, it seems the votes may be in order with the council, which welcomed a couple of new members Jan. 1, to pay the salaries, which could be done by doubling the 2010 salaries, legal counsel Shawn Donahue said.
As newly appointed Council Chairman Chris Timberlake said, this is a difficult issue, but his view not to pay the salaries is the correct one. If the assessors want to take legal action, they should do so against the state level for taking away their elected positions. The local county council had nothing to do with the passing of H.B. 1001, which went into effect July 1, 2008.
Leslie Robertson, vice chair of the county council, accurately said the state has left the council ‘ and all county councils ‘ in a bad position. Former Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter essentially washed his hands of the matter, saying counties had to pay the salaries for 2008 and the amount due to assessors with Level II certification in 2009 and 2010, but left the salary payment verdict up to the county councils.
Yes, the township assessors were elected to four-year terms, but Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plan did away with the position, so the term ends and the pay goes with it. Some counties have opted to pay the salaries, and a few of our local officials are leaning that way because of the threat of a lawsuit. In a worst-case scenario, Donahue said, the county would be sued, lose and have to pay its own legal fees as well as those of the plaintiffs.
I’m not sure the assessors, whether in Harrison County or anywhere across the state, believe they have a slam-dunk opportunity to win the legal battle. Otherwise, we would have already seen a few lawsuits filed, since any of the counties that decided not to pay the salaries would have had to say so in December before signing a salary ordinance. Would the township assessors in Harrison County risk losing and having to pay legal fees all for a $2,000 to $4,000 salary?
Carl (Buck) Mathes, in his second-to-last meeting on the council, told the assessors to get in line to file suit and that he thought they had a good case. He might be right, but the assessors should get in line in Indianapolis, not Corydon.

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