Guidance sought on township assessors

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Promised memo says several issues sent to attorney general

TELL CITY - Perry County Council members postponed Tuesday, for a third time, action concerning the transfer of township-assessor duties to the county assessor's office.

"A memo came down," Council President Pete Franzman said, referring to guidance from state officials the council had expected to, but didn't receive in time for an April 1 meeting, "and we ran it by the county attorney. Until the attorney general issues rulings on these things, (the attorney) recommends we don't do anything."

The 13-page memorandum and an eight-page attachment are intended "to inform all assessing officials ... and other elected officials of the changes made to the law contained in (House Enrolled Act) 1001 as it relates to the elimination of elected township assessors in townships with less than 15,000 real-property parcels as of Jan. 1, 2008," an introduction explains.

Signed into law march 19, the legislation gives townships with more parcels an option to decide through referenda whether township-assessing duties should be transferred to county assessors.

In a regular council meeting March 27, two township officials sought information on that law and another that required them to surrender their real-property-assessment duties if they didn't attain a state certification by the end of last year.

The House act eliminates township-level assessment duties in small counties as of July 1.

Township trustee-assessors said for a previous story they didn't seek the certification because they would have had to attend a week-long class, time they said they couldn't afford to take from other responsibilities.

The township officials retained personal-property-assessment responsibilities until the July 1 phase-out, and questions remained about how much of their annual budgets they should retain.

The memo council members expected was provided April 1, but well after their 8 a.m. meeting that day. In several places throughout the accompanying attachment, the state Department of Local Government Finance notes issues relevant to the transition weren't addressed in the legislation, and department officials were seeking legal opinions from the Indiana Attorney General.

The council approved a motion to take no action on agenda items concerning the reduction of township budgets until those opinions are provided.

"I guess we're in limbo until we get a determination," Franzman said.

County Assessor Mendy Ward said forms for collecting personal-property information had been mailed out by her office, but township assessors can help residents of their districts complete them, if they wished.

"This has been a big mess," said Union Township's Betty Labhart. "It should have been business as usual until July 1; that's how other counties are doing it."

"The new law wasn't a courteous way to treat the trustee-assessors," Franzman said. "I do want to thank you for working with us, and not hanging us. It's been, and there's no other way to say it, a fiasco."

Anderson Township Trustee Becky Hagedorn corrected a statement she made at the previous meeting, saying she had gone back and checked her travel records after telling the council personal-property assessments consumed 80 percent of her duties, with the remainder of her time devoted to real-property work. For last year, "it was more like 95 and 5 (percent)," she said.

The council had voted previously to add a part-time position in Ward's office to help with her increasing role. Funding for it was to come by reducing the township budgets and redirecting the money to the assessor's office.

Since the council remained unable to do that until the attorney general's office provides guidance, they approved a transfer of $2,400 within the assessor's budget and an additional appropriation of $2,400. Ward said that $4,800 should suffice for the time being.