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Jennings Sunday: North Vernon tax rate hinges on state approval

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NORTH VERNON — Seven months after passing a preliminary 2013 budget, city officials in North Vernon still don’t know how much money they’ll have to spend this year; and residents have no idea how much they’ll be taxed.

After the final budget was approved Oct. 22, the city of North Vernon submitted a 2013 general fund budget of $3,108,370 to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, which is the final authority on both spending and tax rates.

The submitted budget is not expected to result in a property tax increase, Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell said. He expects the rate to remain in the area of $3 per $100 of assessed valuation.

But the spending plan represents a 7 percent increase from last year and includes a 2 percent across-the-board pay hike for 60 municipal workers. Campbell and Clerk-Treasurer Shawn Gerkin would each receive a 4 percent raise. Both Campbell and former clerk-treasurer Roger Short refused raises while the city was under a financial crisis in 2010 and 2011.

The budget also calls for a 125 percent increase in spending for waterworks improvements, which must be paid as matching funds for a federal grant. Most of those funds already have been spent to replace 4-inch water mains.

If the DLGF doesn’t approve the submitted budget due to declining property values, the North Vernon City Council may be forced to cut $90,000 from this year’s spending plan. Campbell is hopeful strong industrial growth will generate enough tax revenue to allow for more spending this year without a tax increase.

However, the mayor also described his city’s housing development as “real weak,” which could mean less money through property tax revenues.

“Nobody is starting the big subdivisions that we used to see,” Campbell said, adding that last year’s assessment is a significant reason why he and other local leaders are anxiously awaiting word on both spending and tax rates.

While Campbell and Gerken may be eager to learn how much money the city can spend, both men emphasized they are not expecting bad news from the state.

They added the city has a sufficient cash balance to pay immediate expenses and that all major capital expenses traditionally are kept on hold until the middle of the year.

“We submitted a very conservative budget,” Campbell said. “The city may not be in a very comfortable position, but we’re in a good position financially.”

He said his largest frustration is with the loss of city revenue caused by existing taxing limitations.

“The tax caps enacted over the past five years has been the biggest animal, the hardest thing to put your arms around,” Campbell said. “It’s not a comfortable position to be living with.”

North Vernon was one of the first five Indiana cities to submit their budgets to the DLGF last fall, so Campbell and Gerkin thought they would have received word concerning taxes and income by the first week of this month.

They still are awaiting official notification.

“It’s odd we don’t have our current budget when we really should be looking at next year’s budget now,” Campbell said. “We’ll be into our first meeting with the state concerning the 2014 budget and payroll in just a few months.”

North Vernon Deputy

Clerk-Treasurer Rita Elmore, who has more than 16 years’ experience at her job, said the city has been forced to wait as long as April for that notification. But she’s concerned that recent downsizing at the DLGF might result in even longer delays this year.

“Every (DLGF) examiner’s coverage area has been expanded,” Elmore said. “In addition, they used to have two examiners cover a certain district. Now, they have one examiner who has to cover a larger area. That tends to make a big difference.”

She said another potential problem is that every taxing unit now receives notification by email, instead of through the post office.

“That means that if there’s a computer glitch on our end or their end, we may not be aware of it for some time,”

Elmore said.

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