FORTVILLE — The suggestion that some homeowners would not see an increase in their property tax bills if they are annexed into Fortville was little comfort to a large crowd gathered Monday night at the Fortville Municipal Building.
About 30 people formed a standing-room-only crowd, wearing “Vote No” pins at the first meeting of the Fortville Town Council since plans were made public that Fortville could triple in size if an aggressive annexation plan is approved.
The protestors didn’t speak during the meeting but silently showed their opposition as they heard new numbers on how the annexation could affect their wallets.
According to a report by Fortville’s financial consultant, Buzz Krohn, of the 237 residential homestead properties that could be annexed into Fortville, about 145 would see an increase in property taxes at an average of $148 a year.
The homes that won’t see an increase are the ones where the current taxes already hit the property tax cap.
State law changed in 2008 to cap residential property taxes at no more than 1 percent of their assessed value. Krohn says 92 homes are already being taxed at the maximum capacity, so those property owners will not see an increase in their bills.
All of the figures are based on 2013 tax levels and could change by the time the annexation affects their tax bills in 2015, Krohn said.
“It’s an illustration; the actual bills will depend on a number of things,” Krohn said.
Fortville town Attorney Alex Intermill presented the data Monday evening and handed out copies to audience members. A public information meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 6 to give affected residents more details on the annexation, Intermill said.
“This is a big deal; it is a big annexation,” Intermill said. “We do think it’s positive and important for the future of the town.”
But for the crowd already planning to remonstrate against the annexation if it is approved later this spring, the impact on their tax bills is just one point of concern.
“The town of Fortville is overreaching their bounds to try to grab the land they can without any plans of what to do with it,” said Ed Rischel, who lives on Ind. 234 south of the town.
Rischel said the financial information released at the meeting is only “a half truth” because it deals with averages and possibilities; Rischel said it’s hard to tell exactly how the annexation would affect him.
The data also suggests agricultural land would have no increase in property taxes because the land is already hitting the tax cap. But Rischel is concerned zoning will be changed on agricultural land if it becomes part of town.
“Controlled growth is OK; this is out of hand,” Rischel said.
How each property owner would be affected by the annexation depends on how much the home is valued, and whether that value means taxes are high enough to trigger the property tax cap.
The average residential property in the proposed annexation area is valued at $149,000, Krohn said.
According to the Hancock County auditor’s office, a $149,000 home in Vernon Township would have an annual property tax bill of $1,485, assuming it has a homestead deduction.
If that same home is annexed into the town of Fortville, the property taxes would add up to $2,211 based on the additional town rate, but the property tax cap would kick in at $1,490. Therefore, that property owner would pay $1,490, which is $5 more a year.
The numbers change, however, if the home is of lesser value. If a home in Vernon Township is assessed at $100,000, taxes now are $785 a year. If it is annexed into Fortville, taxes would total $1,169. But because that is over the $1,000 tax cap, the property owner would pay no more than $1,000.
The impact on tax bills also changes if property owners have multiple exemptions on their homes, Krohn added. Those would include people with disabilities or veterans, for example.
Krohn’s data also suggests Mt. Vernon schools would see a financial loss of about $122,000 a year if the annexation is approved. But figures discussed by the MV School Board Monday night differ.
The school corporation used accounting firm H.J. Umbaugh to delve into how the annexation would affect property tax revenue. The net amount lost every year for the school, according to that accounting firm’s report, would be $33,247. It wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday why the two figures differed so greatly.
Resident Paul Whybrew, owner of five parcels in the proposed annexation area, said so far it’s difficult to know what to make of the financial information released Monday.
“The facts they offer are approximations and guesstimates,” he said.
Still, he said it was important that a large group showed up Monday to get more information, even though they’re holding their comments for the public hearing scheduled for May 29.
Fortville council President Bill Hiday said he’s glad the council scheduled an informational meeting May 6 before the public hearing to “make sure everyone’s on the same sheet of music.”
The large crowd at Monday’s meeting didn’t surprise Hiday, who said he is still getting input and digesting information before deciding whether to vote for the annexation.
“Believe me, we’re hearing all their questions, all their concerns,” Hiday said.
IF YOU GO
What: Public meetings on the proposed Fortville annexation
When: 6 p.m. May 6 is an informational session; 7 p.m. May 29 is the public hearing on the issue
Where: Fortville Town Hall
Bill that helped spark annexation push is dead in the Legislature, but issue could yet arise. Page 7
Staff writer Joe Hornaday contributed to this report.