News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 11, 2013

Bennett disputes drop in property values

TERRE HAUTE — Facing a potential multi-million dollar drop in property tax revenue, Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett told local business leaders Thursday he does not believe Vigo County property values have dropped as much as preliminary estimates have shown.

Vigo County officials have reported that the county’s overall assessed value dropped 7.4 percent, much of that in taxing districts of the city of Terre Haute. If true, that could cost the city up to $3 million in revenue in 2013, Bennett told members of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.

A loss of that much money would force the city to lay off between 150 and 200 employees, he said.

“I don’t believe the numbers,” Bennett told more than 200 Chamber members at The Meadows banquet center. “There’s no way it could possibly be true.”

The city currently employs about 500 people.

Bennett said he has spoken with bankers, Realtors and appraisers and all indicate property values in the county have been holding steady, leading him to doubt the reassessment results.

It’s not clear what recourse the city has to dispute property valuations, Bennett said. But his administration and the Tax Payers Association of Vigo County have assembled a list of properties they believe have seen their assessed values plunge too much or are inconsistent with similar properties.

One example is Honey Creek Mall, Bennett said. According to the Tax Payers Association, the mall property saw its assessed valuation drop by $3.4 million to a total of $17.2 million.

The city has already faced significant budget cuts over the past several years due to state property tax caps, Bennett said. “I can’t make up another $3 million. It’s totally impossible,” he said.

The City of Terre Haute, which has already been struggling with a negative balance in its critical general fund, is not the only taxing entity in the county that will see a big drop in revenue due to the reassessment, Bennett said. There are many other entities, such as schools, the library and the county government, that receive property tax dollars.

“These assessed values are going to create a real ripple effect,” Bennett said.

n In his annual address to the Chamber membership, Bennett also said plans remain in place to build a new police station at 12th Street and Wabash Avenue, however, that project may have to be modified or delayed if the reassessment numbers are correct. Largely, however, the police station will be funded by the downtown’s special “tax increment finance” (TIF) district, he noted.

n Bennett also used his address to pitch for a new “trash fee” to help the city pay for its contract with Republic Services for trash removal. A monthly fee of $9.25 per household would cover the city’s approximately $2 million deficit in its general fund, he said. The contract has an annual cost of about $2.3 million, city officials have said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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