Last week’s column suggested the change in your county’s gross assessed value could be a good measure of local economic development. If you missed that column, please retrieve it from your recycle bin or bird cage.
Now let’s look at what happened to some of Indiana’s 92 counties from 2011 to 2012.
Our starting point is the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance’s Table 3 in their “Report on Property Tax Exemptions, Deductions, and Abatements – 2014.” Here we obtain data for assessments in 2011 and 2012 used for property tax bills payable in 2012 and 2013. If that’s confusing, welcome to the wonderfully weird world of property taxation.
Property taxes are paid on the basis of net assessed value, which is gross assessed value minus the exemptions, deductions, and abatements detailed in that report. Those three witches of property taxes reduce gross assessed value by about 30 percent. They are the tax preferences given by Indiana’s Legislature to selected property owners, mainly Hoosier homeowners. They do not reduce property taxes collected, they only shift the amount collected from one group of taxpayers to another.
Total gross assessed value in Indiana declined by $4.1 billion between pay 2012 and pay 2013. It sounds like a lot and it is, until we recognize it’s only 0.9 percent. Yet, why should gross assessed value drop at all? Wasn’t 2012 a better year than 2011? Didn’t we hear that our state’s economy was among the growth leaders in the nation? Shouldn’t more residential, commercial and industrial investment be reflected in our gross assessed value?
There are many questions: How can we explain why 39 counties had increases in gross assessed value as high as 8.3 percent in Pike while 53 counties had decreases as low as -8.4 percent in Jasper?
What was happening in Vanderburgh for that county to lose $846 million (6.9 percent) in gross assessed value between 2011 and 2012 (pay 2012 and pay 2013)? That is greater than the sum of the gains made in gross assessed value by Marion, Boone, Monroe and Bartholomew counties combined.
Hamilton County is Indiana’s great population growth leader, but it lost $3 million in gross assessed value. True, that’s only 0.2 percent down from the previous year, but it’s not what we would expect. While other Indianapolis metro area counties grew, Hendricks County too declined (-0.9 percent). Is it only statistical noise or a goof in the county courthouse? The answers are to be learned in Noblesville and Danville.
We have heard about the pickup in manufacturing and that Indiana is ahead of the nation. Then why are the seven biggest losers in gross assessed value growth (St. Joseph, LaPorte, Elkhart, Kosciusko, Vigo, Porter and Vanderburgh) all among our state’s most prominent manufacturing counties?
There must be answers to these many questions, but they are not to be found in the DLGF report submitted to Sen. Luke Kenley, chair of the state budget committee. Maybe you could find out the answers from your county auditor or assessor.