By Millicent Martin Emery
Wayne County commissioners have been accepting comments about a possible increase in one portion of the local property tax rate before an expected Jan. 22 vote.
However, officials want residents to know that an increase in one component doesn’t mean their entire property tax payment will double as some confusion arises.
An advertised public hearing was conducted in December, and then on Jan. 8, Commissioners Denny Burns and Ken Paust voted in favor and Mary Anne Butters voted against a plan to double the cumulative capital development tax rate that is one part of local property taxes.
Commissioners are responsible for county facilities, and the county’s three commissioners have the right to set and adjust one tax rate, which is for cumulative capital development. All other taxes are overseen by the seven county council members.
A higher cumulative capital tax rate would mean the owner of a residential property worth about $100,000 would pay about $16.90 more per year, which would be levied beginning with taxes due and payable in the year 2021.
However, that amount likely would be higher for farmers and owners of commercial and rental properties since their tax caps are higher. For instance, rental property owners’ taxes are generally double those of homeowners.
Because the vote wasn’t unanimous, a second vote was required for an increase to be approved.
Shortly after the print deadline for the Jan. 15 issue for Western Wayne News, Commission President Ken Paust told Hometown Media Group he intended to bring the issue up for a vote at the Jan. 22 meeting in council/commissioners chambers in the administration annex, 401 E. Main St., likely after 10 a.m.
Results of the vote will be included in the Jan. 29 edition of Western Wayne News.
Because the potential tax increase already has been discussed at a public hearing that had been advertised in legal notices, Paust said there will be no public discussion about the topic at that meeting, but those who have questions or concerns were invited to contact the commissioners via phone, email or mail in advance of the Jan. 22 meeting.
On Jan. 13, Paust said he had received about a dozen messages at the commissioners’ office that day as residents heard about the plan, and he said he planned to call each person back to hear their concerns since some mistakenly believe that their whole property tax bill will double.
Paust said the increase is needed to improve government-owned facilities. In 2014, officials hired a consulting firm to look at the nearly 20 county-owned facilities, and prioritize needs. A list of $5.8 million in suggested capital improvements to county facilities was created. Since 2015, updates have been in progress.
Paust said some of those buildings haven’t been updated in 20 years or more, and some items were wearing out. He said projects still on the list will cost money, not counting any other maintenance needed in the next five to 10 years.
“We don’t know what will fail tomorrow,” Paust said.
Paust said the county could do a bond issue to borrow money, but that is more costly in the long run, so he believes this tax increase is a more economical way to do the maintenance in a way that taxpayers can absorb.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see our facilities deteriorate,” he said, noting that delayed repairs for furnaces, air conditioners and roofs can be two to three times more expensive than fixing things when problems first develop.
In response to Butters, who said it wasn’t necessary to purchase the former Prime Property building that was known in years past as the Golden Nugget bar for the Wayne County Health Department’s environmental health division as it separates from the community health center, Paust supports the investment.
He said the federally qualified health center will expand into the whole building when the environmental health division moves out, and the county will lease the space to the health center, so those lease payments will cover the cost of the Prime Property building in two years or less.
For those who say county officials should be able to find money in the budget to cover those costs, Paust said county officials already have been good stewards of local money, and they wouldn’t raise the tax rate if it wasn’t necessary to maintain county facilities.
He said the tax caps implemented in recent years have made it more difficult to cover expenses, and the county must pay higher prices for materials and for repairs as homeowners do.
“People don’t realize how much we’ve tightened our belt for several years,” Paust said.
Umbaugh consultants were hired to look at the county’s finances in 2015, and Paust said Umbaugh reported that taxpayers dollars were being used well.
Paust said Umbaugh recommended the county try to have operating capital for six to seven months to start the year until spring taxes are disbursed in June, and it’s taken several years to build finances. The reserve isn’t as high as 90 days as Umbaugh recommends, but it’s getting closer with about 2 ½ months saved.
Paust wants voters to know that Wayne County receives only a small proportion of the tax rate, with much of the money going to schools and townships, and he said the county tax rate has increased only a little between 2016 and 2019.
He said an increase in the cumulative capital tax rate for farmers would be 24 cents per tillable acre, but he said local farmers are paying a decreasing amount of taxes based on assessed value, which has gone down considerably in the past few years. The state sets the assessed value, depending on the quality of the land, and Indiana Farm Bureau successfully has lobbied for a decrease in recent years.
Paust said the assessed value of a tillable acre was $2,100 in 2015 and 2016, but went down to $1,850 in 2017, $1,610 in 2018, $1,560 in 2019, and $1,280 in 2020.
In our Jan. 15 story, Butters expressed concern that any increase in the cumulative capital development tax rate would be passed on to those who rent commercial property or homes. She said she believes it will hurt farmers, small business owners and renters the most, affecting the poor more than anyone. Butters also expressed doubt that the cumulative capital development tax rate would ever be lowered after it’s passed.
Paust, Burns and Butters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively, or by calling the commissioners’ office at (765) 973-9237.
By Millicent Martin Emery