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County’s tax rates expected to decline

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County property owners should expect to see slightly lower property tax rates this year, but an overall higher assessed value for the county could increase individual tax bills.

Property tax bills should come out around the first part of April, with the normal first installment due date of May 10. City and county officials recently got a first look at what local residents can expect.

Hancock County units of government received their 2013 budget orders from the state about two weeks ago. While communities craft their own budgets, the state has the final word on property tax rates by controlling whether cuts should be made to the submitted budgets.

For most units of government, the 2013 property tax rate decreased slightly from last year’s rate. But what that means for each property owner’s tax bill will depend on the assessed value of their property.

The total amount due on the property tax bill is figured by multiplying the tax rate by the assessed value of the property. If the assessed value on an individual home increased, the total amount due could increase even if the rate is down.

The overall assessed value for the county increased slightly, from $2.799 billion to $2.82 billion, said county Auditor Robin Lowder.

There are several factors that can contribute to property tax rates decreasing. The increase in a community’s assessed value for properties can cause a decrease in tax rates because the overall money collected would be about the same.

Greenfield Clerk-Treasurer Larry Breese said the property tax replacement credit could also decrease rates. The property tax replacement credit is funding each unit of government receives from the state to replace how much money has to be collected in property taxes.

The city of Greenfield, for example, is getting about $220,000 more this year in property tax replacement credits than last year. The city’s overall tax rate also decreased slightly, from 0.8424 percent to 0.8402 percent.

“We’re getting more in replacement credits than we had in the past, and I think that’s partially due to we’re getting more money from the state,”  Breese said. “The financial stability of the state contributes to that.”

But Breese points out that with the slight decrease in rates, residents probably won’t notice much of a difference. The city’s rate still translates to roughly 84 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Hancock County’s budget was approved as submitted.

That means the 2 percent salary raise for Hancock County employees that was hanging in the balance until the budget order came in could go forward. The county council also this month gave final approval for five new hires for public safety departments, all of which had been given preliminary approval last fall and got the green light when the formal budget order arrived.

The City of Greenfield’s budget was also approved as submitted. Perhaps most surprising part of that was that fire territory funds were not slashed this year.

The territory was established in 2008, but in 2011 local legislators passed a state law that the territory’s finances should have a special review.

Last year, the Greenfield City Council had to plug a funding hole of about $570,000 due to the special review. The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance decided Center Township residents were paying too high a tax rate for the fire territory and those rates should be reduced.

Breese said Center Township’s tax rates were not reduced last year, but the fire territory took a cut of roughly $570,000 from other forms of funding. The city council decided to use local option income tax money to pay for the funding gap; in the meantime, the city is appealing the DLGF decision on the fire territory with a state tax court.

Breese said this year, the DLGF kept funding for the fire territory intact, and rates for Greenfield and Center Township are the same.

“Until you get the ruling from the court whether they’re going to favor the city or the state, the potential is still there for the council to have to revisit the fire territory  budget and make cuts,” Breese said.

Mayor Dick Pasco said perhaps state officials are awaiting the result of the tax court decision, and that’s why the fire territory funds were not reduced this year. In the meantime, city officials are still trying to wade through the unfamiliar situation.

Breese said it’s difficult to know why funds were cut last year but not this year, and whether that had something to do with the city taking the situation to a state tax court. City officials have been waiting since June on a decision from the tax court on how the territory is to be funded in the future.

“Hopefully once the tax court has made their decision, then we’ll know and we can plan accordingly and move forward,” Breese said.

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