LAPORTE | Local governments in LaPorte County might have to borrow one more time to fund operating expenses before the long delay in sending official property tax bills out is finally over.
Since 2009, the city of LaPorte, for example, has paid more than $700,000 in interest on millions of dollars borrowed each year to keep operating until tax dollars came in from estimated bills going out in the spring and fall.
Taxpayers were not obligated to pay the estimated bills, and some exercised the option to wait several years to make due until receiving years of official bills all at once.
With LaPorte County now catching up on the years of late billing, instead of having another estimated tax bill due in May then an official bill going out for collection in November, two official bills for 2012 will go out in the fall to try to simplify what's been a very confusing process.
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo said the city receives its draw from property tax payments in the spring and officials aren't sure if there's enough funds in reserve to operate until the revenues come in from the double fall billing.
The risk of having to borrow again increases under a state law adopted last year that gives taxpayers a six-month extension to pay their taxes to accommodate the higher balances from receiving two bills at once and any taxes unpaid from previous years of estimated billing.
"We are continuing to look at this. We may have to take steps to address the challenges that come from having one tax bill," Milo said.
The pace at which years of late billing started getting corrected increased rapidly after the state Legislature in 2012 passed a bill imposing a $1 million fine on LaPorte County if deadlines toward fixing the problem were not met.
The penalty has been avoided and billing will return to normal in 2014.
To catch up, taxpayers in 2012 received four bills in just one year.
LaPorte County Treasurer Nancy Hawkins said many taxpayers have paid in full, while many others have not but have until July to make due on the bills sent out last year.
"It will be good to get caught up and back to normal," Hawkins said.
Milo said having to borrow again would be more of an inconvenience given what now almost seems like a normal process.
"It does make it a little more challenging for the other units of government to be able to have their cash flow needs met," Milo said.