We’ve heard the lament for years: Center Township is home to Indianapolis’ greatest concentration of institutions that pay no property taxes. That means the neighborhoods in Indianapolis with the biggest need for expensive government services must operate with a diminished tax base.
If the city fathers of the 19th century had anticipated the problem, would they have intervened?
We think they would have, and for some of the same reasons that Fishers and Noblesville are smart to implement policies designed to protect the tax bases those growing communities depend upon.
As IBJ reported on page 1 last week, the Fishers Town Council last month passed an ordinance prohibiting “institutional” uses of property along Interstate 69 from 96th Street to 126th Street. And Noblesville’s Common Council recently approved a measure allowing not-for-profits to locate in certain prime economic development areas only if they agree to make payments equal to what the land would generate from an entity that paid property taxes.
Some object to the idea that government would prohibit legitimate—even laudable—institutions such as hospitals and churches from locating wherever they please. But that position ignores the financial strain on the entire community when a government starved by non-payers and property-tax caps can’t do its job.
It would be irresponsible for governments in Fishers or Noblesville to allow land users that don’t pay taxes to gobble up development sites prepared with government funds. The debt incurred to make sites development-ready wasn’t intended as a giveaway; it was an initiative to increase the commercial property tax base. If the base doesn’t grow, existing taxpayers are left with the bill.
Taking a longer view, neither town wants to get into a situation someday like the one in Indianapolis, where tax-exempt organizations are concentrated in a particular area, diminishing the amount of money available for basic public services.
We prefer Noblesville’s approach, which doesn’t restrict where tax-exempt entities locate, provided they are willing to make a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, equal to what a taxpaying entity would contribute to city coffers.
An attempt to impose a $15 million PILOT on the Capital Improvement Board, the quasi-government entity that owns Indianapolis’ sports stadiums, went nowhere last year, but that’s what happens when such policies are proposed piecemeal and after-the-fact.
That’s just one of the reasons the proactive policies adopted by Fishers and Noblesville make so much sense. Indianapolis, specifically Center Township, would be in a stronger financial position if we could turn back the clock and do the same thing.•
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