Earlier this week I attended the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Northern Monroe Fire Territory. I am a non-voting taxpayer member of the Executive Committee. At the meeting we heard concerns from some residents both that the tax rate increase in creating the territory was too high and that they could not understand where that high tax rate came from. While the former is a values question that each taxpayer has to come to answer to on their own, I thought I would take a bit of time here explaining where that tax rate actually comes from and where that money goes.
Again, the purpose of this post is not to persuade anyone; it is just to educate the public about how their tax rates are determined. Hopefully with a little bit of shared knowledge and shared understanding, we can all engage in productive dialog about the services needed by our community and their costs.
Governance of the Territory
First, though, let me take a moment to explain the governance of the territory. The territory was established through specific processes set out by state law. The authority to create the territory is held by the township boards coming together to form the territory. The Bloomington Township Board and the Washington Township Board passed identical resolutions that established the territory, and both boards also passed the Northern Monroe County Fire Protection Territory Agreement, which is essentially the by-laws that govern the territory.
Note that in a fire territory, by law one of the units (townships) has to be designated the “provider unit”. The budget for the territory then sits in the provider unit, and the provider unit’s board has annual budget authority over the territory. So in the case of Northern Monroe, because Bloomington Township is designated as the “provider unit”, the Bloomington Township Board ultimately has authority over the territory budget.
That agreement established the 6-member Executive Committee, which consists of: both township trustees and one township board member from each township (4 voting members total) and one non-voting citizen representative from each township (I am the non-voting citizen representative from Bloomington Township and Mike Baker is the representative from Washington Township). The Executive Committee’s duties are as follows:
- Recommend annual budget;
- Recommend major purchases in excess of $50,000;
- Contribute to the planning and development of possible future capital
- Receive and review annual reports from the Provider Unit and Fire Chief;
- Recommend staffing and equipment allocations;
- Appoint the Fire Chief;
- Act as liaison with the township s/he represents, enhancing communication between the township board, the community, and the Executive Committee.
So now onto the discussion of how to get from the budget to the tax rates. The best source for budgets for ALL taxing units in the state of Indiana is the state’s web site Gateway Report Builder. From there, you can download budgets, tax rate information, and just about any other financial information you want about any local unit in the state. To get the budgets for the territory, go to Budgets -> Line Item Budget Estimate, and choose Monroe County and Bloomington Township. There are two separate funds that make up the fire territory: Special Fire Protection Territory General and Special Fire Protection Territory Equipment Replacement. General is the annual budget for operating the fire territory and Equipment Replacement is for accumulating funds to replace apparatus (fire trucks, etc.).
I’ve included copies of the 2017 budget reports here:
So from the perspective of calculating the tax rates, the most important thing about the budget is the bottom line. Here is the bottom line from the General Fund budget:
The annual budget, as passed by the Bloomington Township (provider unit) Board for 2017 for the general fund (which, again, funds the operations of the fire department, including salaries, lease payments on a fire station, and pretty much any other expenses of the fire department except equipment replacement) is $2,776,423.
I will write another posting that will discuss this budget further — while the above budget reports give you some detail, the categories are sometimes broader than would be useful. For example, under administration salaries and firefighter salaries, most people would like to see how that actually breaks down in terms of the number of firefighters at what ranks, and how much they are paid. I’ll provide that information, but in a separate posting.
Financial Statement and Property Tax Levy
Now that we have the budget, though, how does this translate into a tax levy? That involves another state form known as the 4B (also known as the “16-line statement”) that each unit files during the annual budgeting process for each fund (i.e., for the Fire Territory, the general fund and the equipment replacement fund). The 4B is essentially an 18-month financial statement, covering from July 1 of the current year to December 31 of the year being budgeted for. It basically allows the unit to identify all of its planned expenditures, its available revenues from existing sources, and any property taxes it needs to levy for the budget year to be able to fund the expenditures.
Because the Fire Territory was only created in 2017, the 4B statements for the two fire funds are simpler than they usually are. To generate the 4B reports, go to Gateway Report Builder and run a Budgets -> Budget Estimate – Financial Statement – Tax Rate report for Bloomington Township for 2017. You’ll have to page down until you find the report for the fund we are looking at — Special Fire Protection Territory General. I’m including a copy of this report below. While we could spend all day discussing this form, I just want to focus on the reason I’ve written this posting — going from the budget to the tax rates. You only want to pay attention to the right-most column, labeled “Certified Amount” — these are the numbers that are actually used to calculate the final tax rate.
The top part of the statement relates to planned expenses of the territory. Note the line #1 — total budget estimate for incoming year. This is the $2,776,423 that I referred to above — the estimated amount required to run the fire territory for the year. The second section refers to revenue, including cash on hand. Because the territory is new for 2017, there isn’t any cash on hand. Line 8b states that the Fire Territory expects to receive $575,484 in miscellaneous revenue. Miscellaneous revenue is basically all revenue except property tax. You can actually see a breakdown of this number again through Gateway Report Builder and run a Budgets -> Miscellaneous Revenue Report for 2017 for Bloomington Township, Special Fire Protection Territory General.
I’ll include that report here, since it is short:
As you can see, there are only a few sources of miscellaneous revenue for the fire territory. Vehicle and Commercial Vehicle excise taxes are distributed to every fund that receives property tax. Bloomington Township is also budgeting $363,837 of its share of local income tax (LIT) towards the territory. Because of the increased property taxes, the township will receive a significant increase in its share of income taxes as well, and the Township is able to use that additional income tax to lower the property tax rate. The other miscellaneous revenue line of interest is $130,000 for Fire Protection Contracts and Service Fees, which comes from providing fire protection to Benton Township.
Let’s go back to the 4B above. So we know the territory needs $2,776,423 in budget to run the territory (general fund), and expects $575,484 in miscellaneous revenues. Therefore, it needs at least $2,776,423 – $575,484 in property taxes to fund that budget. That number, $2,200,939 is found on line #10.
Finally, the fund needs what is known as an operating balance, which is essentially a cash balance that is needed in the fund to be able to make payroll each year before the first property tax settlement of the year comes in June. I won’t get into details on what that number should be, but in this case, it is set to be $366,818, and is included on line #11. Another way of interpreting the operating balance is that it is what the fund will have at the end of 2017, to begin 2018 (and make payroll, etc. before the first 2018 property tax settlement comes in June).
So to recap:
- Territory needs $2,776,423 in 2017 for operations
- Territory will get $575,484 in miscellaneous revenue
- Territory needs to end 2017 with $366,818 left
So working backwards from these numbers, you can tell how much needs to be raised in property taxes:
The total amount of property tax required to fund the budget for the General fund of the territory is $2,567,755. This number is also provided in line #14 on the 4B statement, and is known as the levy. This is the amount of property taxes that will be raised from taxpayers.
Calculating the Tax Rate
Finally, we need to divvy that levy ($2,567,755) among all of the taxpayers in the Fire Territory. To do that, we calculate a tax rate by dividing that levy by the total net assessed value (net means after deductions and exemptions) of all property in the territory — both Washington Township and the unincorporated Bloomington township.
To get that total net assessed value, I’m going to send you to yet another report. Unfortunately the 4B statement above is created in the budget process before the total net assessed value is known — so the assessed value on that form is always an underestimate of the actual assessed value.
To get the assessed values, again go to Gateway Report Builder and run an Assessed Value -> Certification of Net Assessed Values by District for Monroe County for 2017. Here is what you will see:
Because this report is very busy, I highlighted the two relevant numbers here — the net assessed value for Bloomington Township (the unincorporated part) and Washington Township. Those numbers are:
So now that we have the levy (the property tax that needs to be raised) and the assessed value (the assessed value over which the levy is distributed), we can calculate the tax rate:
So for the Northern Monroe Fire Territory General Fund, the tax rate for 2017 is $0.5972 per $100 of net assessed value. Note that this rate for the General Fund is spread across both Washington Township and Bloomington Township, and, crucially, is uniform across both townships.
Note that this rate is particularly high for the first year of the territory, for several reasons: first, the additional income tax that Bloomington Township receives because of the territory doesn’t come in until the second year of the territory; this additional income tax can be used to reduce the property tax rate in 2018 and subsequent years; and second, as you can see in the above calculations, the territory had to request property tax levy above what was actually required for the first year in order to create an operating balance. This will only need to be done for the first year.
Equipment Replacement Fund
So we’ve talked about the General Fund for the Fire Territory, and how its tax rate was calculated. The Equipment Replacement Fund is much easier. The General Fund is what’s known as a levy-controlled fund; as you could see through these calculations, you start with the levy, and then calculate the rate by dividing the levy by the assessed value. The Equipment Replacement Fund is called a rate-controlled fund; the unit of government simply sets a fixed tax rate, which is limited by statute. In the case of the Fire Territory Equipment Replacement Fund, it is $0.0333 per $100 of assessed value.
Total Fire Territory Tax Rate
Finally we are in a position to calculate the entire tax rate of the Northern Monroe Fire Territory for 2017, simply by adding together the tax rates of the General Fund and the Equipment Replacement Funds:
So for 2017, taxpayers in the fire territory will pay $0.6305 per $100 of net assessed value of their property (i.e., assessed value after any deductions and exemptions) for the fire territory.
How Does This Compare to Previous Fire Rates?
There is no doubt that this tax rate is high, and represents a substantial increase over 2016 tax rates for fire service. Professional firefighting and EMT services are expensive! And neither Washington nor Bloomingon Township have been adequately able to fund their firefighting needs in the past, because of state limits dating back to the 1973 Otis “Doc” Bowen property tax restrictions.
But the statutes governing the creation of a fire territory unfortunately also create a particularly high first-year expense for the territory, for several reasons, including the need to establish an operating balance (cash reserves) for the first year, and the fact that the additional income tax doesn’t get allocated to the township until the second year of the territory.
The following table shows the 2016 fire rates vs. the 2017 fire rates for both townships:
How Does This Fit in to the Overall Tax Rates for a Taxpayer?
Finally, these tax rates for the Northern Monroe Fire Territory need to be pub into context to see their overall effect on the taxpayer.
First, the fire territory tax rates are combined with other township-level tax rates. The following chart shows the overall change of township tax rates:
But of course the township tax rate is only part of the overall property tax rate that a taxpayer pays in a particular district (Washington Township is one taxing district and unincorporated Bloomington Township is another). Taxpayers also pay a tax rate associated with Monroe County, the Monroe County Community School Corporation, the Monroe County Public Library, and the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District.
The following chart shows the overall change in property tax rates for residents in Bloomington and Washington Townships from 2016-2017:
As you can see, the overall tax rates went up 48.5% in Washington Township and 23.7% in Bloomington Township. You can also see that this increase is almost entirely due to the increased costs of the fire territory; rates for other taxing units went up minimally (or even decreased).
What this means is that, all other things being equal, a taxpayer in Washington Township could expect to see a 48.5% increase in their tax bill over 2016, and a taxpayer in Bloomington Township could expect a 23.7% increase. Of course, all things aren’t always equal — the assessment of the property could have changed, the use of the land could have changed (making it, for example, no longer eligible for the homestead deduction), and assessment methods may have changed (for example, acreage that is not being farmed may no longer be assessed as agricultural land).
I hope this was at least slightly informative. Again, my intent here was not to persuade anyone about the territory — it was purely to inform taxpayers where the tax rates that they just saw on their new tax bills came from. It may be more detail than most of you want, but I wanted to make sure I went through the math in enough detail that you can see how your rates are calculated. I plan to make a few more postings providing more explanation in several areas; the next posting will focus on the budget, and how staffing levels for firefighters drive the budget numbers.