An effort is underway in Bartholomew County to raise property taxes to help pay for costly repairs to county government-owned buildings.
For the first time, all three county commissioners are now supporting the establishment of a cumulative capital improvement fund, commissioners chairman Carl Lienhoop said.
The commissioners are expected to begin making a case for it during their Feb. 27 meeting, when results of a cost-analysis study will be released.
The report will be given during the commissioners’ weekly 10 a.m. meeting at the county governmental office building near Third and Franklin streets.
DLZ Indiana Inc., a engineering and architectural firm, will address both the necessary work and expenses for the 133-year-old courthouse and the 65-year-old highway garage on State Street.
Last fall, county maintenance director Rick Trimpe said courthouse repairs could soar in excess of $1 million. This week, Bartholomew County Council president Laura DeDomenic said she has heard estimates exceeding $4 million to build a new highway garage.
“But we aren’t planning to spend that much,” commissioner Rick Flohr said.
In August, DeDomenic advocated cutting funds available to the commissioners to pressure them into creating the capital improvement fund and enacting the tax.
That came after state lawmakers excluded the county’s already existing cumulative bridge fund from holding $680,000 received in previous years, Flohr said.
“The legislature said if you don’t have a place to put the money, you won’t get it,” Flohr said.
However, the General Assembly will provide those funds if a capital improvement fund is created, he said.
“So if we don’t establish that fund, that will just be money lost that we had already been getting,” Flohr said.
While the council believed last summer the commissioners were responsible for both creating the fund and setting the tax rate, recent legal research states the council must set all tax rates, county attorney Grant Tucker said.
“Now that the council knows they have that responsibility, they want to make sure they are doing the right thing and looking at all their options,” Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman said.
While the council may be willing to take out a bond to fund courthouse restoration, DeDomenic said her fellow members are less inclined to spend millions on a new highway garage.
If the council adopts the state’s recommendations regarding capital improvement funds, taxes on all residential and business real estate would increase by .0166 cents per $100 of assessed valuation the first year, raising between $600,000 and $700,000, according to Hackman’s estimates.
For a property owner with a home assessed at $100,000 who takes normal deductions, the first-year impact would be $5.44, Hackman said. For owners of a residence assessed at $200,000, the tax liability would be $16.26 annually, she said.
That would be followed by up to .033 cents annually — double the amount — in subsequent years, creating between $1.2 million and $1.3 million in additional revenue, the auditor said.
When Lienhoop brought up the matter during a Feb. 6 work session, there was a discussion on whether the council could adjust the amounts and rates, the commissioner chairman said.
Besides a capital improvement fund, the council also is examining other sources of income including a new local option income tax and a wheel tax, DeDomenic said.
A consultant will be hired to make projections on what the county’s overall financial needs this summer as the council is about to begin its 2018 budget process, she said.
But Lienhoop said revenue will be delayed a year if the council waits until after Aug. 1 to make a decision.
Most of Indiana’s 92 counties have already enacted the tax to fund large building projects. Hackman says she believes Bartholomew County has needed that fund for as long as she can remember.
That was also the opinion of both Lienhoop and former commissioner Paul Franke in October 2012, when they advocated for the tax to fund a new county annex building.
But a week later, commissioner Larry Kleinhenz spoke against the tax and the issue was not brought up again for further discussion.
So why are all three commissioners — including Kleinhenz and Flohr — now supporting the tax?
County taxpayers are already spending up to a half-million dollars annually just in maintenance costs for the county’s 11 buildings, Kleinhenz said.
“We decided collectively that we won’t be responsible for the deterioration,” Kleinhenz said. “We’ve seen the money available to maintain our buildings for the past five years, and we cannot continue at that rate.”
Right now, the county could spend up to $1 million each year just to fund necessary improvements, Lienhoop said.
“We have just come to realize that we can’t be doing this on a hope and a prayer,” Lienhoop said.
Under state statute, the following process must be taken before a cumulative capital development fund and subsequent tax rate for Bartholomew County can be established. Exact dates will be announced at a later time.
- Enact a resolution establishing the fund that states the purpose for its creation. This must be done after two separate public hearings are held.
- Advertise a public hearing at least 10 days before the meeting.
- Advertise a public hearing seven days after the first advertisement and at least three days before the meeting.
- Hold the public hearing. Adopt an ordinance to establish the rate and reason for the fund.
- If adopted, advertise the adoption within 30 days of the meeting.
- Taxpayers have until noon 30 days after the adoption publication to file an objection.
The following are examples of pending projects among the 11 county-owned buildings that could be financed by the establishment of a cumulative capital development fund.
Courthouse, 234 Washington St.: Fix significant erosion to the limestone foundation and brickwork below vents on the lower part of the clock tower.
Highway garage, 2452 State St.: Address severely cracked walls, roofing problems, increase space for truck storage, expand room for vehicle repairs, and seal off bays to protect trucks from inclement weather.
Governmental office building, 440 Third St.: Roof replacement.
The findings of a study that updates needed repairs and anticipated costs for both the garage and the Courthouse will be presented to the Bartholomew County commissioners at 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at the county governmental office building near Third and Franklin streets.