Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations Agenda for Fall of 2015

Indiana State House
Indiana State House

The Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (IACIR) is essentially a permanent study committee of the Indiana General Assembly. Along with several members of the General Assembly, it also includes representatives of different levels of government in Indiana, and staffing is provided by the Indiana Public Policy Institute (IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs). I am one of the two county council representatives on the commission. IACIR’s mission is to “create effective communication, cooperation and partnerships between the federal, state and local units of government to improve the delivery of services to the citizens of Indiana“.

Our commission’s study and brief on 911 funding last year led to committee chair Rep. Mike Karickhoff’s successful legislation House Enrolled Act 1475, which accomplished the following:

  • Extended the current method of collecting taxes on phone lines (landline and wireless are treated the same) and distributing the revenues to counties for funding 911 dispatch centers, which was set to expire July 1, 2015
  • Raised the 911 fee on phone lines from 90 cents per month per line to $1 per month per line
  • Raised the 911 fee on prepaid wireless phones from 50 cents per transaction to $1 per transaction
  • Authorized the state 911 Board to audit phone carriers for compliance with 911 laws
  • Removes a requirement that a county must impose certain additional tax rates as a condition of imposing an additional tax rate for public safety (known as a public safety LOIT)
  • Allows the body that imposes a public safety LOIT (in Monroe County it would be the Bloomington City Council) to designate a certain percentage (up to 100%) of the public safety LOIT to 911 dispatch, before the remainder is distributed to the eligible taxing units

We just had our first meeting of the fall yesterday (2015-09-28), and will be studying the following two topics this year:

  • Ensuring the ability of local government to provide and fund local services, including discussion of minimum property taxes, adjusting property assessment rules for nonprofits, and enhancing the ability of local government to assess service fees/payments in lieu of taxes.
  • Ways to encourage local government to utilize current tools for improved efficiency and effectiveness, including interlocal agreements, joint purchasing, local government structural and service consolidation, contracting, and public private partnerships (P3).

Both are important topics, but the former is particularly interesting, as it gets to issues of basic fairness in taxation: some taxpayers (both individual and corporate) receive substantial property-tax-funded services, but yet contribute little or nothing to the funding of these services. This topic relates directly to my blog post from last week (Whose Taxes are Abated? The Answer May Surprise You), which revealed that almost $3.2 billion in assessed value is exempted from property taxes, out of a total of $9.8 billion — and this doesn’t even include other units of government, including Indiana University.

Whose Taxes are Abated? The Answer May Surprise You

WestsideWho Pays Taxes in Indiana?

The discussion in the media about “dark box” assessments (the use of vacant stores as comparables for the assessments for property tax purposes of big box stores) has made me want to look more broadly about who pays taxes and who doesn’t in Indiana’s system of taxation. There is a feeling expressed by many residents that businesses are treated more favorably than individual taxpayers. This view is almost inevitably expressed any time a business is given an economic development tax abatement. On the other hand, politicians (particularly Republican politicians, unsurprisingly) often claim that Indiana needs to lower taxes on businesses in order to continue to attract jobs (see recent debates on the corporate income tax and business personal property tax).

As you might imagine, though, Indiana’s system of taxation is complex, and it can be difficult to disentangle the various threads, to determine whether or not the system is fair, both overall and across the various classes of taxpayers (businesses, homeowners, renters, farmers, etc.). I’m hoping to explore these issues of taxation — who pays and who doesn’t pay — over the next series of blog posts.

Today’s post explores the issue of tax exemptions: that is, when do property owners (individuals and organizations) pay taxes on less than the full assessed value of their property.

To do this, I’ll be looking at the real estate data for Monroe County for 2015 (for property taxes to be paid in 2016), which the Monroe County Auditor’s Office kindly provided for me. Note that there is an important caveat to this data: it does not include property owned by other units of government, which includes state (including Indiana University and Ivy Tech), federal, city, county, and school corporation. None of these governmental entities pay real estate property taxes at all (which makes some sense when you consider them as units that are providing governmental services. The data set also does not include personal property, which applies almost exclusively to business.

Tax Exemptions in Monroe County

Indiana has a number of purposes for which it exempts property from full taxation. The most familiar include the homestead deduction (which exempts some property value from homeowners who occupy their homes), the exemption given to non-profit organizations and churches, and tax abatements given to businesses as incentives for investment in job-creating development. But there are actually several dozen different types of real estate property tax exemptions given to property owners for a variety of purposes.

Large HouseFirst, how much property value is exempted from taxation overall in Monroe County? In 2015, it is approximately $3.2 billion (yes, billion), out of a total of $9.8 billion in gross assessed real estate value.

So whose taxes are exempted? I’ve taken the 2015 real estate data and collapsed the dozens of exemption types) into 11 categories, which I think are more illustrative. For example, I collapsed the homestead deduction, supplemental homestead deduction, and mortgage deduction into the category “Homestead”. I collapsed the two types of economic development incentives — tax abatements and enterprise zone abatements — into the category “Economic Development”. Etc.

Property Tax Exemptions by Category
Property Tax Exemptions by Category

As you can see from this table, the vast majority of property tax exemptions are given to homeowners — over $2.6B, or 82% of the total $3.2B in exemptions granted. This may — but probably shouldn’t — come as much of a surprise: the property tax system we have is a political artifact, and residents, not businesses, vote. Further, homeowners vote at a higher rate than renters, and homeowners with greater wealth (often meaning higher-end homes) vote at a greater rate still. So it really isn’t surprise that our tax exemption system provides enormous tax benefits to homeowners — abatements that dwarf all of the rest of the types of tax exemptions combined.

Sherwood Oaks Christian ChurchThe next largest beneficiary of favored property-tax status — still a distant second to homeowner exemptions — religious institutions! Churches and other religious institutions enjoy $158M in exemption from property taxes.  Coming in third is economic development incentives, including both tax abatements and enterprise zone abatements, which are similar, but are only allowed in one of a fixed set of so-called “enterprise zones” throughout the state. I will do a separate blog post and provide more detail on these economic development exemptions.

There are several exemption categories that might broadly be thought of as the non-profit sector. This includes:

  • educational exemptions — which does NOT include public schools or IU or Ivy Tech — think private educational organizations as well as IU fraternities and sororities
  • hospital  — in particular IU Health Bloomington Hospital (I will do a separate post on this one at some point)
  • charitable — what most people think of as the nonprofit sector, including Middleway House, Community Kitchen, Stone Belt, etc.
  • membership organizations — including the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Sycamore Land Trust, and other charitable organizations — and oddly the Indiana Railroad company

There are several other categories of exemptions, including what I call socioeconomic exemptions. These include exemptions available for blind or disabled property owners, seniors, and veterans. Energy efficiency exemptions include exemptions for solar and geothermal installations. Finally, there are exemptions for low-income housing, as well as a couple of very small exemptions that I have lumped together under miscellaneous (cemeteries, rehabilitation of historic properties, and model homes).

Hopefully this has been illuminating, and perhaps you have been surprised by which classes of taxpayer have been most favored in Indiana’s property tax system. I plan to explore many related topics in future blog posts, and will be drilling down on several categories of tax exemption, including those given to non-profits, hospitals, and for economic development.

The Big Bridges of I-69 (Section 4)

INDOT is still holding to a completion deadline of the end of 2015 for I-69 Section 4 (going from Crane to south of Bloomington), so I thought I’d check out for myself the status of the 3 big bridges in the southern part of the section, running along Black Ankle Road and Mineral-Kohleen Road. Managed to walk across all 3 bridges and see how close they are to completion.

Black Ankle Creek Bridge is undoubtedly the longest bridge of the segment, almost half a mile, and one of the more impressive freeway bridges I have seen.

From Black Ankle Creek Road
From Black Ankle Creek Road
Black Ankle Creek Bridge
Black Ankle Creek Bridge
Black Ankle Creek Bridge
Black Ankle Creek Bridge
Bridge decking is complete, and approaches are paved but not finished
Bridge decking is complete, and approaches are paved but not finished
My car in the distance, from the western bridge approach
My car in the distance, from the western bridge approach
Bridge nearly complete
Bridge nearly complete

Construction from the southwest (i.e., Crane) appears complete.

The bridge can be found here on the map: Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Northeast of the Black Ankle Creek Bridge, the Dry Branch Creek Bridge goes over a beautiful stretch of Dry Branch Creek.

AE0A934D-6932-4195-99BF-403F80BE93C0 760896EA-474F-4890-879D-EFB776A2BBE7 D3319D6F-6070-4976-86EF-22B228D67A0F 5E26DC31-E2A7-4CD3-B88A-29DDA03E0748 60FF6566-03CB-4474-880E-8D8A4A471DD3 00A41F76-27BD-47A5-8959-601149CF527F

It doesn’t appear that the road is paved yet between the Black Ankle Creek and the Dry Branch Creek Bridge.

The bridge can be found here on the map: Dry Branch Creek Bridge

Further northeast of the Dry Branch Creek Bridge is the Mineral-Kohleen Bridge, which crosses Plummer Creek. The road isn’t paved between Dry Branch Creek and Mineral-Kohleen. However, the road appears to be paved to the northeast of the Mineral-Kohleen bridge.

0F67AFFA-740D-4F91-902A-7D3420CCC002 C2D6E934-B82C-4925-9713-C209745D93A4 839DE454-D67C-4C8A-B2C4-1D9CDB7D9303

The bridge can be found here on the map: Mineral-Kohleen Bridge