Two rural lakeside neighborhoods experienced the largest increases in total assessed value during the recently completed Bartholomew County’s spring tax season.

As a whole, 2016 assessments on Harrison Lake properties on the county’s far west side went up 24 percent from the prior year, Assessor Lew Wilson said.

Just south of Hope, Schaefer Lake property owners experienced a 20 percent hike in neighborhood assessed value, Wilson said.

Those are the two biggest assessment increases in Bartholomew County.

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Among the reasons assessments went up in these neighborhoods is that the state of Indiana has developed a special formula to assess lakefront properties, using lake frontage linear feet to help determine value, Wilson said.

Also, neighborhoods are only assessed once every four years, which can result in a substantial increase that catches some residents off-guard when a change hits, the assessor said.

But the biggest factor impacting values of individual properties are property-sale prices on nearby similar properties, which are used to determine whether property is valued fairly during assessment time, Wilson said.

An increasing assessed value doesn’t necessarily translate to higher taxes, however.

One record from the county auditor’s office showed that while a Tipton Lakes property owner saw assessed value go up 6 percent, the resident’s tax bill went down 4 percent.

That was largely due to new construction on the city’s far west side, Wilson said. When new homes are built in popular residential areas such Tipton Lakes, assessed values can go up and tax bills can go down at the same time, he said.

The countywide Gross Assessed Value increased 1.64 percent from a year earlier — from $5.85 billion to $5.95 billion, Wilson said.

Generally speaking, such increases create a lower tax rate. If there had been a decrease in assessed value, the tax rate would have increased if there were no mitigating factors, Wilson said.

Most property owners who live in Columbus Township saw a drop in their tax bills, county Treasurer Pia O’Connor said. She cited efficiencies spearheaded by township trustee Ben Jackson, such as reducing debt and restructuring township fire protection expenses.

The overall assessed value of agricultural property, which went down 4.07 percent, reduced bills in Clay, Clifty and Flatrock townships, Wilson said.

Nevertheless, Wilson said he was expecting appeals from many residents who received higher tax bills.

“I thought we’d hear a lot of noise, and I kept thinking ‘Where are they at? They’ve got to be coming.’” Wilson said. “But nothing even remotely close to what I was expecting happened.”

While there were routine inquiries, no angry taxpayers surfaced before the May 10 spring tax payment deadline — including people who had complained every year since Wilson took office in 2010, he said.

Whenever a taxpayer has questions about property assessments prior to deductions, those calls are handled by real estate and tax billing administrator Chris West.

Over the past 22 years, West has personally handled as many as 200 complaints during the spring tax season, he said.

“This year, I’ve only had to deal with about 10 people myself — and not one of them were mad,” West said.

Wilson’s decision to conduct well-attended informational meetings in neighborhoods where tax bills went up the most — including Harrison Lake and Schaefer Lake — had a significant impact on reducing complaints, West said.

“Lew was gracious, helpful, patient and did a good job of explaining the logic,” said Mike Champlin, one of about 25 Schaefer Lake property owners who met with Wilson at Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School. “We didn’t like what we heard, but we accepted it.”

But the East Lakeshore Drive South resident also said he believes counties began raising assessments after property tax caps were permanently placed in the state constitution in 2011.

“It’s an artificial way to increase revenue,” Champlin said.

With demand for housing continuing to grow, Wilson says that means an entirely different set of property owners will be surprised when the four-year assessment cycle catches up with them next year.

“We’ve got areas that were soft this year that may see a small increase when they pay their bill a year from now,” he said.

The more significant factor that has kept tempers in check this spring is a lack of changes from last year, West said.

For example, Edinburgh area residents weren’t surprised they were paying the highest property taxes per $100 of assessed valuation. The in-town rate of $4.06 isn’t much different from last year, West said.

“All of this means either the taxpayers are understanding more, or things are going better for everybody,” West said.

Some of that understanding can be credited to local Realtors who inform people listing their homes on the market if their assessment is too low, Wilson said.

Home sellers often gain a different perspective when they learn lower assessments might lead to lower offers, Wilson said.

“We’ve actually had nearly a dozen residents come in to ask to have their assessment raised,” the assessor said.

Pull Quote

“I thought we’d hear a lot of noise (about higher property assessments), and I kept thinking ‘Where are they at? They’ve got to be coming. But nothing even remotely close to what I was expecting happened.”

— Lew Wilson, Bartholomew County assessor

Property tax deadlines

Deadline to pay the spring installment of property taxes in Bartholomew County was May 10. The fall installment of property taxes will be due Nov. 13, according to the Bartholomew County Treasurer’s office .

Questions on property assessments

Inquiries regarding property assessments can be made by calling the Bartholomew County Assessor’s office at 812-379-1505.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.