News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 2, 2014

Assessments under attack

After complaint on appeals hearing process, county leaders add 2 members to review board

TERRE HAUTE — Two new seats have been added to the Vigo County Property Tax Assessment Review Board after county officials learned that appeals hearings have been conducted without a quorum of appointed members.

In a special meeting of the Vigo County Commissioners and County Council, the makeup of the board was increased from three members to five members.

County attorney Michael Wright told the Tribune-Star that while recent hearings have been conducted with only one appointed board member present, no formal action has been taken on any appeal. All appeals have yet to be reviewed based on the information gathered so far.

Taxpayer Randy Gentry, who had a Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals hearing on Wednesday morning, questioned the makeup of the board because only one person on the board — county-council appointment John Church – was attending. Board members Rick Conley and Brian Kerns could not attend this week’s hearings.

David Phelps and Kevin Gardner were also at the hearings on Wednesday, along with Harrison Township Assessor Mick Love. Gentry said he was told that Phelps and Gardner were sitting in as “proxy” members so that the hearings could be conducted.

Wright said he reviewed the statute to see if the proxy seats were permissible, but he could find no information on it. He advised the council and commissioners to increase the board size to bring Phelps and Gardner onto the board as full-fledged members.

The county has the option of establishing a three-member or five-member board, Wright said, but there are requirements that a five-member board must have two appointments from the county council, with one being a level 2 or level 3 appraiser/assessor.

The commissioners get three appointments, with one being a level 2 or level 3 appraiser/assessor. Also, there can be no more than three members of the same political party on the board.

The board now has that makeup, Wright said, with commissioner-appointed Gardner as a level 3 appraiser/assessor and council-appointed Church as a level 2 appraiser/assessor.

Phelps and Kerns are Republicans. Phelps was appointed by the county council. Kerns and Conley are commissioners’ appointments.

The hasty reorganization of the board makeup has caused Gentry to raise concerns about the appeals hearing process.

Gentry told The Tribune-Star that he plans to ask for another appeal hearing because only one person who heard his appeal Wednesday morning was actually appointed to the board at that time.

He also said he is also concerned because he felt the review board has the burden of proof in showing why his property taxes increased more than 5 percent over the assessed value from the previous assessment.

Gentry said his residence in Stratford Hills has had no improvements to warrant an increase in assessed valuation, but the value jumped $21,400, which is 10 percent more than the previous assessment.

He also noted that the land value of his residential lot jumped from $17,200 in 2011 to $65,500 in 2012. That took his assessment from $208,900 to $231,300 for the 2012 general reassessment.

When contacted by The Tribune-Star, county assessor Deborah Lewis said that many residential property owners in Vigo County saw similar changes in their land values as part of the reassessment. That was partly because the land values had not been updated for 10 years.

Gentry told The Tribune-Star that he plans to seek another local review board hearing on his appeal, and if necessary, he will appeal to the Indiana Board of Tax Review.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@trib star.com. Follow her on Twitter

@TribStarLisa.



Assessment Info Online

• More information about filing a petition to the Indiana Board of Tax Review can be found online at www.in.gov/ibtr.

• Additional information about the property tax appeals process through the Department of Local Government Finance can be found online at www.in.gov/dlgf.

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