Residents to again face town tax levy

Elizabethtown taxpayers had a one-year reprieve from paying taxes to the town in 2014, but their town tax rate is returning this year.

The town, with its population of slightly more than 500 people, already functions with the lowest tax levy in Bartholomew County.

However, when clerical problems derailed the budget process in 2013, for taxes payable in 2014, town leaders discovered they could not collect nearly $10,000 from town property owners.

Not having to pay town property taxes last year saved an Elizabethtown resident with a $100,000 home about $137, not taking into account any homestead or other deductions that might have been claimed.

Since the town couldn’t collect property taxes that year, officials used existing funds when Indiana’s Department of Local Government Finance set the town’s general fund tax levy at $0, Town Council President Fred Barnett said.

While Elizabethtown taxpayers didn’t have to pay a town tax rate, they were billed in 2014 for other taxes that most county residents pay.

Those include tax rates for county, township, schools, library and solid waste funds, Sandra Beatty, Bartholomew County chief deputy auditor.

The town’s tax rate for all those funds in 2013, payable in 2014, was $1.4240 per $100 assessed valuation and did not include a tax rate for the town, Beatty said.

Barnett said the town lost its tax levy for the one year as a result of errors involving Gateway, the state’s online portal for collecting and providing access to information about how taxes and other public dollars are budgeted and spent by local units of government.

The town didn’t have a clerk-treasurer at the time. As a result, the appropriate tax rate and levy was not placed in the system correctly, Barnett said.

The clerk-treasurer position was vacant from January 2013, when Gail Greathouse resigned, until the Bartholomew County Democratic Party appointed Peggy L. Brown, who was sworn in March 4 of that year. Brown resigned and moved from the area in late 2014, and Judy Nichols was then appointed and serves as the current clerk-treasurer.

But with no sitting clerk-treasurer when the tax rate was being set in 2013, the town was in a rough transition period and didn’t have anyone with the necessary experience to properly file information with the state, Barnett said.

By the time town leaders realized there was an error, it was too late to fix it, he said.

Elizabethtown was not alone.

Each year, the state’s Department of Local Government Finance has five to 10 cities, towns, townships, school corporations and other agencies that get property tax money but went through the budget process and ended up having no levy, said Jenny Banks, the agency’s director of communications.

Like the others, Elizabethtown had to find a way to make it work, Barnett said.

The town had funds in reserve and worked with the state’s department of finance and Indiana State Board of Accounts to figure out how it could use those in lieu of the 2014 tax levy, he said.

Despite the error, the town was able to patch potholes, put up guardrails around culverts, install stop signs and do other kinds of regular maintenance, Barnett said.

“We were able to do just about everything we needed to do, and then some,” he said.

However, Elizabethtown officials also have taken steps to make sure what happened in 2013 won’t happen again, he said.

They hired a professional account administrator who has been thorough and worked closely with Nichols and state agencies to keep the town’s finances in order, Barnett said.

The town also has purchased software from Keystone Information Systems that is also utilized by about 80 percent of other Indiana communities to record funds, he said.

It paid off, to the tune of $9,786 in tax levies this year, and “thank goodness,” Barnett said.

Although the town gets money from other sources, every cent counts in helping town leaders make sure Elizabethtown remains a pleasant place to live, he said.

Upcoming projects including the town paying its in-kind donation for a tornado siren, which has been ordered, Barnett said.

When the siren is installed, Elizabethtown residents and those who live nearby in the county will have their first tornado warning system that is wired into Bartholomew County’s warning system, he said.

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Elizabethtown residents will pay their taxes at a rate of 1.529 per $100 of assessed value, which includes property tax money for the town, county, township, schools, library and solid waste. Here’s what that means for the estimated tax bill on homes valued at $100,000, with and without homestead and mortgage deductions:

  • $100,000 property with deductions: $500.75
  • $100,000 property without deductions: $1,529

Source: Bartholomew County Auditor’s Office

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2011: $8,710

2012: $8,731

2013: $9,304

2014: $0

2015: $9,786

Source: Indiana Department of Local Government Finance