Assessments and Township Government and Opinion and Taxes and Editorials and Government & Economic Development and Government

Assessor consolidation is a must

November 3, 2008
We have a long-standing policy of not endorsing political candidates, but there's no such policy where ballot initiatives are concerned. So we urge our readers to vote "yes" on assessor consolidation.

Voters in 43 townships across Indiana, including eight of nine townships in Marion County, have a chance to send a loud message about the need for local government reform when they go to the polls Nov. 4.

In essence, here's the question: Should property assessment be consolidated at the county level so all real estate is valued uniformly under the authority—and responsibility—of a single executive?

The answer is a resounding "yes" for several reasons.

Top of mind, of course, is the wildly inconsistent assessments turned in by township assessors in the recent property tax debacle. Assessments can vary widely from one township to the next. We've all heard about or experienced the phenomenon of comparable houses on different sides of the same street receiving assessments that differed by tens of thousands of dollars.

Some township assessors do a good job, but nine different offices are bound to apply the rules nine different ways. Only a uniform assessment can result in a fair distribution of the tax burden.

The standard objection is that township-level government is better because it's closer to the people. It's a nice sentiment, but it's about as relevant as the botched tax bills property owners received in the summer of 2007. It harkens back to another era, when everyone knew everyone else and when getting to the township assessor's office was a quicker buggy ride than going to the county seat. Thousands of Hoosiers don't know where their township ends and the next one begins. It's a safe bet that even fewer know the name of their assessor.

Voting for consolidation will reduce finger-pointing by laying the responsibility for accurate assessments at the feet of one county official. And it will send a powerful message to the state Legislature about the public's appetite for further government consolidation.

The Legislature has already gotten the ball rolling on local government reform by agreeing to consolidate at the county level the assessment duties of 965 townships statewide.

Only the 43 townships with 15,000 parcels or more were left out of that legislation. Voters in those townships will decide for themselves. In Marion County, the ballot initiative includes all townships except Decatur. In Hamilton County, voters in Clay, Fall Creek and Noblesville townships will decide. Johnson County voters in Pleasant and White River townships will find the question on their ballots, as will voters in Hendricks County's Washington Township.

Voters in these townships and others around the state have a rare opportunity to express their preference for efficient, accountable government. It's important that they make that opportunity count.

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