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Township assessors receive guidance

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

Laws appear to conflict on how long to pay them

PERRY COUNTY - Perry County's township assessors might continue to receive salaries for the remainder of the year, even though their duties will be transferred to the county assessor's office July 1, according to an opinion issued by Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.

He provided legal analysis of issues surrounding the transfers of township-assessor duties to county assessors, mandated for small counties by House Bill 1001. Signed by the governor March 19, the law eliminates township assessors' positions in townships with fewer than 15,000 real-property parcels as of July 1. Townships with more parcels are to conduct referenda in November's general election asking voters if they support identical transfers in their areas.

"The elected township assessor may continue to receive salary and fringe benefits for the remainder of his or her current term of office," Carter wrote in a May 9 memorandum offering his opinion.

Assessors in all seven of Perry County's townships were elected or re-elected in November 2006 and assumed office the following January, so under that guidance, they would be paid through 2010. But the attorney general's opinion also notes that two state laws prohibit increases or decreases in the compensation of an elected township assessor "for the year in which it was fixed."

Most of Perry County's township assessors lost the real-property portions of their duties at the beginning of the year under a law enacted in 2005, which required them to achieve assessment certifications by the end of last year or relinquish the duties. As The News reported in stories dating back to late January, several said they couldn't take time from other responsibilities to attend the week-long training sessions necessary to attain the required certification.

Carter made a fleeting reference to that law, Indiana Code 6-1.1, in a "background" section of his memo, but focused his discussion on the effect of House Bill 1001 on township assessors.

"The attorney general doesn't explicitly say" how counties are to deal with both of the laws, county attorney Chris Goffinet said Tuesday. He was seeking guidance from the state Department of Local Government Finance.

Prompted by mandates in the 2005 law, county-council members have discussed at four meetings how much of the township officials' budgets should be reclaimed by the county and diverted to County Assessor Mendy Ward's office to hire someone to help with the additional responsibility she was acquiring from the townships. The council opted at an April 8 meeting to allot $2,400 so a part-time worker could be hired, but held off on transferring $18,237 from the township assessors' budgets as they sought guidance.

Cautioning that she wants to check with the county attorney, County Auditor Connie Berger said Tuesday she reads the attorney general's opinion to mean the assessors will continue to receive their pay for this year. For all but Troy Township Assessor Brenda Powers, that means salary alone, she said, because the other six don't receive fringe benefits.

The 2005 law "said they weren't allowed to do any assessing duties," Berger said. "This says they will still be compensated."

Powers' salary was set at $26,583 for 2008, compared to the $1,000 to $1,300 budgeted for each of the other townships. She carries the required certification, so she's affected only by the 2008 legislation. That certification nets her an additional $1,000 per year, and Carter noted she'll continue to receive it.

"The elected township assessor is entitled to receive the $1,000 payment for the duration of his or her term of office," he wrote, "provided that the elected township assessor maintains the certification."

Powers said Wednesday her current certification is good into 2010 and she has completed 35 of the 45 hours' training that would have extended it further.

"I think it's dirty because I did everything the state wanted me to do, and I still don't have a job (after June 30)," she said. Also a bus driver for the Tell City-Troy Township School Corp., she said she might seek an assessing job in Spencer County or with a private company. Her chances of going to work in the Perry County assessor's office are "slim to none," she said, because of her bus route. She finishes her morning route before 8 a.m., she said, and could take a late lunch to make her afternoon run, but Ward called that "unacceptable."

Powers was also unsure about how the county will pay her until the end of the year, and said she intended to contact Pete Franzman, county council president.

Ward said Tuesday she hoped to convene a meeting that would include Goffinet, a member of the council, a county commissioner and Berger before the council's regular meeting May 22.

"We have to sit down and figure out how it's going to affect us," she said.

It won't need to be a public meeting, she said, because no quorum of governing bodies will be present.

Ward said assessments of property for tax bills to be paid this year are complete, and her office is working on those to be paid next year. They're supposed to be provided to the auditor by July 1, but she won't make that deadline, she said.

She expects the state Department of Local Government Finance to note the delinquency, but said they "will be somewhat lenient on the timeline. Under the circumstances, we're not doing too badly," she added.

Regarding Carter's memo, she said, "he's made his ruling; now we have to figure out on the county level how that relates to us."