Thursday, July 05, 2007

Making Sense Of The Tax Bill

Brendan O'Shaughnessy has a good article in the Star today which endeavors to explain why someone directly across the street from you can receive a substantially different tax bill than your's. As he explains, tax rates are based on geographic districts with varying tax rates depending on the taxing district in which you are situated. The school tax rates vary considerably depending on where you live, which take the biggest bite out of your taxes. There are 64 taxing districts in the county.

That explains some of the disparity, but my own investigation of property tax assessments in my neighborhood has revealed disparities attributable to assessment error. A neighbor with a 3-story townhouse across the street, with a rental unit on the first floor, is worth over $500,000. It is being assessed at $196,000. Lockerbie Circle townhouses, for which there are plenty of recorded sales over the last several years, are worth $250,000 on average. They are being assessed around $150,000. A restored home recently appraised at over $400,000 is assessed at $149,000.

When the assessors make these kinds of errors in valuing property, it exacerbates tax bills for homeowners whose property is assessed nearer to the fair market value. Artificially under-assessed property results in higher tax rates for all property owners. From anecdotal accounts, I've heard people claim their assessment was set higher than the actual fair market value, but I've not uncovered any such cases in the dozens of assessments I've studied within my own neighborhood. I analyzed more than 30 assessments alone in the building where I live where it is easy to compare the assessed value of individual units. I didn't find a single unit which was over-assessed. With the exception of a one glaring case, comparable units within my building were equally assessed.

I think the only way we're going to improve the assessments is to get rid of elected township assessors and employ professionals to do the job, particularly when we elect people like the janitorial supervisor who holds the job here in Center Township. Better yet, let's just dump the property tax altogether.


Anonymous said...

I was at my sisters house in Fishers on the 4th. Her neighbor is a good friend. I mentioned I was at the Tax Protest that morning. She told me her parents live in Marion county ( Broadripple area I think ). Their taxes went up 60+ percent. The assessed value was at $240,000. They had tried to sell the house earlier this year to move into a condo. They listed at $180,000 and never got a nibble even when it went down to $150,000.

Pike Voter

Anonymous said...

"Better yet, let's just dump the property tax altogether."

Finally, the point of your non stop whining about property taxes.

What's your solution?

Gary R. Welsh said...

I've long supported the idea of a value-added tax such as the one Sen. Richard Lugar proposed several years back.

Wilson46201 said...

Center Township Assessor Gene Akers GOP opponent Gary Loveless was a retired supervisor from Allisons and a nice-guy perennial sacrificial lamb for his party. Not exactly a model of a trained professional real-estate expert himself...

Township Assessors are managers of organizations which hire people to perform their duties under state-mandated procedures. There are 1008 Townships in Indiana, each of which have an Assessor. About 850 are actually combined Trustee/Assessors! Only the top 150 townships have separate people (Assessors and Trustees).

Deputy Assessors do all the actual work in Assessors Offices. Most are quite underpaid and not very well trained. In Marion County, Township Assessors are under the City Council which sets their budgets. More professional assessing wont come cheaply - good deputy assessors get seduced off into the real-estate industry by higher pay.

Personally, I'm agnostic about centralizing all assessing into one giant county office. As it is, Assessors meet weekly to voluntarily coordinate practices and policies. Without better pay and training for the real workers, not much assessing change will happen ...

Anonymous said...

The value-added tax is considered a regressive tax -- meaning that the poor pay end up paying more than the rich.

How do you counter that criticism?

Wilson46201 said...

" bitchette said...

The value-added tax is considered a regressive tax -- meaning that the poor pay end up paying more than the rich. "

For Republicans, that's a feature, not a bug!

Gary R. Welsh said...

I think the Lottery is the most regressive tax we have. Don't hear the libs calling for removal of that. The exemption of critical items, such as food and drugs, helps alleviate regressive concerns.

Anonymous said...

Oh no you did-ent, Wilson...didn't go there regarding professionalism in Gene Akers's office.

Gene Akers is a nice enough man. But a state-certified assessor ran against him in the 06 D primary. Your gal Julia and the Center gulag didn't want that. Instead, they ran Akers, whom they thought they could control, I guess. He won, as I recall, about 53-47.

His first act? Defy logic and try to hold onto his IPS janitorial supervisor's job in addition to being assessor. He stubbornly refused to give it up for several weeks. Arrogant as hell. That decision was effectively made when he ran for office.

Gary is right. Township assessors offer notoriously poor pay and require ridiculously long hours. It's a thankless job, and mistakes are bound to occur.

Consistency? Pshaw! It's not even close to consistent within townships, let alone township-to-township. We had a partisan hack out in Lawrence for years, who employed his family and saw nothing wrong with it. To his credit, one or two of them got state-certified, on the township dime, long after they were hired.

One countywide assessor, in Indiana's largest county, is the only answer. Give him the budget to employ private contractor assessors, and employ a decently-paid staff to oversee their work and filings. Apply a consistency barometer to their work.

There are many counties in Indiana where this reassessment was not a big deal. Most of the larger ones, though, had trouble. Nine Marion county assessors is ten too many.

And while we're at it...ash-can the entire township government system. Maybe save the Small Claims Courts...they appear to be efficient providors of service. But the constables have to go.
And trustees. Where else does it cost $1.56 to delvier $1 of service?

It'd be a small dent, but in this environment, a bunch of small dents, added up, can be big money.

Anonymous said...

The lottery is voluntary taxation.

So, am I understanding you correctly: Your preferred VAT system will allow exceptions for life sustaining necessities; but, everything else -- you know, all those incentives that keep life enjoyable -- shall remain the domain of the increasingly select few.

Insightful, very insightful!

Wilson46201 said...

Getting that state-certified assessors certificate isnt all that difficult if a reasonable effort is put into it. It took me a month. Gene Akers has it, his primary opponent was a bail-bond operator who also took for her campaign that assessing test and passed it. For that matter, it is required nowadays by state law for the Township Assessor to have the certification.

The continuing problem is the level of training of the deputy assessors who do the actual work and the quality of their supervision. Will a grand central county office improve this problem? How much is more accurate assessing "worth" (cost) and who is willing to pay this?

Wilson46201 said...

By the way, Township Constables receive absolutely nothing from taxes. Nothing! They are paid solely by user fees on court users. Cutting constables wont change your taxes one whit. Zippo!

Anonymous said...

Interesting points, W. We all want competent persons overseeing this entire appraisal and property tax process. Consistency is best-achieved when there's a single bureaucracy overseeing it, and when it's (hopefully) inhabited by real estate-smart, qualified persons. That's just not the case in Marion County, for the most part.

Bail bondspersons must be state-certified and licensed, too. That requires some minimum competency and contiuing oversight. A township assessor's appraisal licensing and competence, are important to voters and property owners. Or it sure should be.

But be extra careful, sir, about claiming certification or licensing. Indiana law makes no distinction between the two. Certification/Licensing in Indiana is not a simple process, especially true after the RESPA Acts of 1990-91, which were made mandatory nationwide by the Silverado S&L (Neil Bush) fiasco. State certified and licensed appraisers must meet stringent continuing education and initial testing requirements. You cannot accomplish that in a month.

And a quick browse of the state's website did not find you or Mr. Akers as certified. That's perhaps an error, but certification and licensing are not things about which you can make your typical casual and flippant remarks. The course provided to elected township assessors, by the state, is nowhere equal to the rigor of the licensed coursework. It's more like a "New Employee Briefing." Please don't try to mix the two. It's deceptive.

And the end result is the same: Center's assessor was and is not qualified to do his job. Period. His judgment is suspect, because he tried to keep two jobs for a long period of time.

Pardon me all to hell, but I don't want him overseeing my property tax bills.

Anonymous said...

"By the way, Township Constables receive absolutely nothing from taxes. Nothing! They are paid solely by user fees on court users. Cutting constables wont change your taxes one whit."

Ok, so instead of hiring constables, which I hear make near six-figures, get a contract with IMPD or MCSD and get a $30K/year civil deputy to serve your papers. Since costs will go down, lower the cost to file in small claims courts. Heaven forbid we cut any costs in government.

Wilson46201 said...

fwiw, I took my Indiana assessor/appraiser test 20 years ago -- back then, it was sort of a rarity.

Gene Akers has been Center Township Assessor for barely 6 months now -- most of the current assessed values were done under his predecessor who was Assessor for 25 years. He has retained most of his predecessors staff who do the actual work...

The State of Indiana has wisely provided an appeal process for taxpayers unhappy with a local assessors decision: appeal it to the county assessor! Do it and then vote for the best-qualified (in your opinion) in the next election.

Anonymous said...

OK W, then don't pass yourself off as competent to pass professional judgment on today's assessment and appraiser standards, practices and requirements. Because you're not.

And neither is Gene Akers.

But your gang got him elected. Over a qualified person. Thanks a lot.

You dismissively commented that your certification took less than a month, as if it's not much. It wasn't when you took it, but it is today, and has been since 1991. You also commented that Akers had the same certification. I highly doubt it.

True, prior elected assessors did 75% of the work. But in true government fashion, the last 25% is sometimes the most revealing and difficult.

We can't afford to leave this job to political hacks. We have to have one solid person per county held accountable, and that person, hopefully, will hire competent professionals.

I doubt taxes would go down much, but there would be consistency and uniform explanations and applications of formulas, computations, etc.

I think that's what most people are really asking for here.

The jig is up, and this worthless system is going to get flushed.

Wilson46201 said...

Center Township Gene Akers received his Indiana State Certified Assessor Certificate on Feb. 23, 2007. I personally checked the date on the document proudly hanging in his office.

The voters decide who is qualified. It's an old-fashioned thing called "democracy" - kind of appropriate to remember around July 4th dont you think?!

Anonymous said...

You know what? YOUR VOTERS are pretty damned stupid. I've worked YOUR poling places in the primaries and generals. Handing YOUR VOTERS a slip of paper with YOUR SLATED CANDIDATES on it is about as close to democracy as it gets with YOUR VOTERS.
Without that piece of paper with YOUR SLATE those voters would be at a complete loss at YOUR polling places.
Stupid is as stupid does. They get what they vote for.

Wilson46201 said...

It's called Democracy in America - people voting at the polls for the candidates of their choice -- perhaps you'd prefer North Korea where one self-appointed Respected and Beloved Leader is "The Decider"? Mussolini made the trains run on time - for a while...

Anonymous said...

Wilson - I worked at a Center township polling site recently - I saw how things worked. I had people coming in and I would ask them if they needed any help with the new voting machine. 90% told me - no thanks - they told me how to vote outside.

That is not the DEMOCRATIC way that I grew up with.

Pike Voter

Wilson46201 said...

Pike Voter: why should voters in a precinct want to accept voting advice from a total stranger? Voters are not ignorant, they already know how to use the machines. Voters had been bombarded with advertising - most likely there were also volunteers outside handing out election material to guide voters. Voters had already made up their minds - they didnt need or want help from strangers like you. Nothing personal against you really - just objective political facts.

Do you go to the polls without having some idea of how you want to vote? Do you take advice from strangers inside the polling place? Mighty uninformed voter if you do!

Anonymous said...

First, the Constable: ELIMINATE THAT CORRUPT office....Center Twp had a constable that went bye bye for doing illegal things....then there is Tony Duncan. Has anyone seen his mansion? This ignorant buffoon is a moron, and why does he have a mansion? He hires deputy constables, like Carl Drummer....or those with questionable criminal records...and just explain Wendall Birdsong to us!


Anonymous said...

Wilson's version of democracy is offering an alcoholic a bottle of Richard's Wild Irish Rose to vote according to the instructions....taking some ill senior citizens on a stroll from 'the home' and telling them to say they are (fill in a name on the poll list) and vote a certain way....

Anonymous said...

Sorry Wilson but you are totally off base. I was not asking if they needed help deciding WHO to vote for - but how to use the NEW machine - especially when they had a quizzical look on their face when they got the ballot and looked at the machine without a clue as to how to use it.

Some did accept the offer of help. Some said they knew how to use the new machine and thanked me for my offer. A few even asked if or how they could split their tickets.

The rest who did respond said they had been shown how to vote - not offered advice or individual voter information from volunteers of different candidates. Most had a sample sheet of the ballot showing how to vote straight Democrat. Some even tried to actually use that sample as their voting ballot.

To my eyes these were not informed voters "who already mind made up their minds" before coming to vote but sheep blindly being told what to do.

From a detached point of view it was amazing to watch.

Wilson46201 said...

In the United States under our Constitution, those "sheep" as you call them have as many rights as you do. They have a vote equal to yours and they have the right to form their opinions on how to vote as equally valid as yours. You might disagree but in America we use the ballot box to resolve differences of opinions.

Instead of running down your fellow equal citizens, you might try considering why they may be voting in a particular fashion. To paraphrase Rumsfeld, you win elections with the voters you have, not the voters you wish to have. Winners persuade the majority of free and equal voters - losers whine about "sheep". Why do you put down voters by comparing them to dumb farm animals? That's a losing attitude for sure! Respect people and you will get that respect back successfully at the polls!

Anonymous said...

The Akers "certification" noted above is a crash course for newly-elected assessors.

It is NOT "certification."

It is not "licensed." It's a "welcome" course. No more, no less.

And again, Akers' opponent last May already had the proper training. But your gulag didn't want her, because you couldn't control her. Akers had to be convinced to give up his other job to oversee the complicated workings of a township assessor office.

He couldn't assess his way out of a paper bag.

He, and you, are fish out of water on this very complicated system. The fact that you opine so willingly about it, demonstrates why party hacks should never be entrusted with this very important task.

You are obviously qualified to do many things. Handing out polling place advice is one of them, and I'd likely listen to your opinions there.

And I'm sure Akers was super qualified for his janitorial supervision job at IPS. Cause that's such a well-run bureaucracy, and no hacks hang around there, drawing paychecks for no good reason.

But please, let's leave appraisal/assessing to licensed, trained, certified professionals. Period. As we've now seen, it's too sensitive and important to leave to just anyone.


Anonymous said...

Seriously interested, Anon 8:31, who exactly are these licensed, trained, certified professionals of whom you speak?

Wilson46201 said...

Every voter that comes to the polls to elect an Assessor has to sign his or her name. Strangely we now have a very opinionated and vitriolic self-proclaimed professional expert assessor who posts anonymously. An "authority" speaking with a brown paper bag over his head. Odd!

In the real world, voters in the primary in Center Township received several well-done mailings by Akers opponent. She had assiduously attended Democratic meetings. It was a good campaign! Still, the voters preferred Akers for their own reasons.

The anonymous "expert" here has his reasons but "The Deciders" - the voters - decided otherwise.

Anonymous said...

9:02, there are, at last count, over nine thousand professionally-trained appraisers in Indiana. All duly licensed. With ongoing education and an apprenticeship period that was strenuous.

They're ably qualified.

If overseen by one countywide elected official, that's a damned good start.

Paper bag or not, here are folks who know this system is destined to crash and burn, Wilson. If it hasn't already.

So stop defending it already. It isn't worth it.

Let's figure out how to fix it. Professionals, who understand the marketplace and national appraising standards, are the first step. Hopefully, they aren't subject to political winds and tides. I know that's a leap of faith, but given that the current system is a century or more old, and not been changed, well, I'm ready to try something else.

Elimination of township government is step two.

Carry on.

Anonymous said...

I had time before you answered, Anon 10:56, so I searched the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency website and found that there are about 2,500 Certified Residential Appraisers / Licensed Residential Applicators altogether in Indiana. In Marion County, the total for both is about 400.

In both instances, the numbers are generous as I did not take the time to subtract certification / licensing status which is pending, expired, suspended, revoked, inactive, superseded, non-renewable or had litigation pending. I’m not sure who may be missing what; not enough to explain the discrepancy in our numbers.

But thanks anyhow...

Anonymous said...

Eh -- meant Appraisers not Applicators.