Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations Agenda for Fall of 2015

29 Sep
Indiana State House

Indiana State House

The Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (IACIR) is essentially a permanent study committee of the Indiana General Assembly. Along with several members of the General Assembly, it also includes representatives of different levels of government in Indiana, and staffing is provided by the Indiana Public Policy Institute (IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs). I am one of the two county council representatives on the commission. IACIR’s mission is to “create effective communication, cooperation and partnerships between the federal, state and local units of government to improve the delivery of services to the citizens of Indiana“.

Our commission’s study and brief on 911 funding last year led to committee chair Rep. Mike Karickhoff’s successful legislation House Enrolled Act 1475, which accomplished the following:

  • Extended the current method of collecting taxes on phone lines (landline and wireless are treated the same) and distributing the revenues to counties for funding 911 dispatch centers, which was set to expire July 1, 2015
  • Raised the 911 fee on phone lines from 90 cents per month per line to $1 per month per line
  • Raised the 911 fee on prepaid wireless phones from 50 cents per transaction to $1 per transaction
  • Authorized the state 911 Board to audit phone carriers for compliance with 911 laws
  • Removes a requirement that a county must impose certain additional tax rates as a condition of imposing an additional tax rate for public safety (known as a public safety LOIT)
  • Allows the body that imposes a public safety LOIT (in Monroe County it would be the Bloomington City Council) to designate a certain percentage (up to 100%) of the public safety LOIT to 911 dispatch, before the remainder is distributed to the eligible taxing units

We just had our first meeting of the fall yesterday (2015-09-28), and will be studying the following two topics this year:

  • Ensuring the ability of local government to provide and fund local services, including discussion of minimum property taxes, adjusting property assessment rules for nonprofits, and enhancing the ability of local government to assess service fees/payments in lieu of taxes.
  • Ways to encourage local government to utilize current tools for improved efficiency and effectiveness, including interlocal agreements, joint purchasing, local government structural and service consolidation, contracting, and public private partnerships (P3).

Both are important topics, but the former is particularly interesting, as it gets to issues of basic fairness in taxation: some taxpayers (both individual and corporate) receive substantial property-tax-funded services, but yet contribute little or nothing to the funding of these services. This topic relates directly to my blog post from last week (Whose Taxes are Abated? The Answer May Surprise You), which revealed that almost $3.2 billion in assessed value is exempted from property taxes, out of a total of $9.8 billion — and this doesn’t even include other units of government, including Indiana University.

Whose Taxes are Abated? The Answer May Surprise You

18 Sep

WestsideWho Pays Taxes in Indiana?

The discussion in the media about “dark box” assessments (the use of vacant stores as comparables for the assessments for property tax purposes of big box stores) has made me want to look more broadly about who pays taxes and who doesn’t in Indiana’s system of taxation. There is a feeling expressed by many residents that businesses are treated more favorably than individual taxpayers. This view is almost inevitably expressed any time a business is given an economic development tax abatement. On the other hand, politicians (particularly Republican politicians, unsurprisingly) often claim that Indiana needs to lower taxes on businesses in order to continue to attract jobs (see recent debates on the corporate income tax and business personal property tax).

As you might imagine, though, Indiana’s system of taxation is complex, and it can be difficult to disentangle the various threads, to determine whether or not the system is fair, both overall and across the various classes of taxpayers (businesses, homeowners, renters, farmers, etc.). I’m hoping to explore these issues of taxation — who pays and who doesn’t pay — over the next series of blog posts.

Today’s post explores the issue of tax exemptions: that is, when do property owners (individuals and organizations) pay taxes on less than the full assessed value of their property.

To do this, I’ll be looking at the real estate data for Monroe County for 2015 (for property taxes to be paid in 2016), which the Monroe County Auditor’s Office kindly provided for me. Note that there is an important caveat to this data: it does not include property owned by other units of government, which includes state (including Indiana University and Ivy Tech), federal, city, county, and school corporation. None of these governmental entities pay real estate property taxes at all (which makes some sense when you consider them as units that are providing governmental services. The data set also does not include personal property, which applies almost exclusively to business.

Tax Exemptions in Monroe County

Indiana has a number of purposes for which it exempts property from full taxation. The most familiar include the homestead deduction (which exempts some property value from homeowners who occupy their homes), the exemption given to non-profit organizations and churches, and tax abatements given to businesses as incentives for investment in job-creating development. But there are actually several dozen different types of real estate property tax exemptions given to property owners for a variety of purposes.

Large HouseFirst, how much property value is exempted from taxation overall in Monroe County? In 2015, it is approximately $3.2 billion (yes, billion), out of a total of $9.8 billion in gross assessed real estate value.

So whose taxes are exempted? I’ve taken the 2015 real estate data and collapsed the dozens of exemption types) into 11 categories, which I think are more illustrative. For example, I collapsed the homestead deduction, supplemental homestead deduction, and mortgage deduction into the category “Homestead”. I collapsed the two types of economic development incentives — tax abatements and enterprise zone abatements — into the category “Economic Development”. Etc.

Property Tax Exemptions by Category

Property Tax Exemptions by Category

As you can see from this table, the vast majority of property tax exemptions are given to homeowners — over $2.6B, or 82% of the total $3.2B in exemptions granted. This may — but probably shouldn’t — come as much of a surprise: the property tax system we have is a political artifact, and residents, not businesses, vote. Further, homeowners vote at a higher rate than renters, and homeowners with greater wealth (often meaning higher-end homes) vote at a greater rate still. So it really isn’t surprise that our tax exemption system provides enormous tax benefits to homeowners — abatements that dwarf all of the rest of the types of tax exemptions combined.

Sherwood Oaks Christian ChurchThe next largest beneficiary of favored property-tax status — still a distant second to homeowner exemptions — religious institutions! Churches and other religious institutions enjoy $158M in exemption from property taxes.  Coming in third is economic development incentives, including both tax abatements and enterprise zone abatements, which are similar, but are only allowed in one of a fixed set of so-called “enterprise zones” throughout the state. I will do a separate blog post and provide more detail on these economic development exemptions.

There are several exemption categories that might broadly be thought of as the non-profit sector. This includes:

  • educational exemptions — which does NOT include public schools or IU or Ivy Tech — think private educational organizations as well as IU fraternities and sororities
  • hospital  — in particular IU Health Bloomington Hospital (I will do a separate post on this one at some point)
  • charitable — what most people think of as the nonprofit sector, including Middleway House, Community Kitchen, Stone Belt, etc.
  • membership organizations — including the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Sycamore Land Trust, and other charitable organizations — and oddly the Indiana Railroad company

There are several other categories of exemptions, including what I call socioeconomic exemptions. These include exemptions available for blind or disabled property owners, seniors, and veterans. Energy efficiency exemptions include exemptions for solar and geothermal installations. Finally, there are exemptions for low-income housing, as well as a couple of very small exemptions that I have lumped together under miscellaneous (cemeteries, rehabilitation of historic properties, and model homes).

Hopefully this has been illuminating, and perhaps you have been surprised by which classes of taxpayer have been most favored in Indiana’s property tax system. I plan to explore many related topics in future blog posts, and will be drilling down on several categories of tax exemption, including those given to non-profits, hospitals, and for economic development.

The Big Bridges of I-69 (Section 4)

6 Sep

INDOT is still holding to a completion deadline of the end of 2015 for I-69 Section 4 (going from Crane to south of Bloomington), so I thought I’d check out for myself the status of the 3 big bridges in the southern part of the section, running along Black Ankle Road and Mineral-Kohleen Road. Managed to walk across all 3 bridges and see how close they are to completion.

Black Ankle Creek Bridge is undoubtedly the longest bridge of the segment, almost half a mile, and one of the more impressive freeway bridges I have seen.

From Black Ankle Creek Road

From Black Ankle Creek Road

Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Bridge decking is complete, and approaches are paved but not finished

Bridge decking is complete, and approaches are paved but not finished

My car in the distance, from the western bridge approach

My car in the distance, from the western bridge approach

Bridge nearly complete

Bridge nearly complete

Construction from the southwest (i.e., Crane) appears complete.

The bridge can be found here on the map: Black Ankle Creek Bridge

Northeast of the Black Ankle Creek Bridge, the Dry Branch Creek Bridge goes over a beautiful stretch of Dry Branch Creek.

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It doesn’t appear that the road is paved yet between the Black Ankle Creek and the Dry Branch Creek Bridge.

The bridge can be found here on the map: Dry Branch Creek Bridge

Further northeast of the Dry Branch Creek Bridge is the Mineral-Kohleen Bridge, which crosses Plummer Creek. The road isn’t paved between Dry Branch Creek and Mineral-Kohleen. However, the road appears to be paved to the northeast of the Mineral-Kohleen bridge.

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The bridge can be found here on the map: Mineral-Kohleen Bridge

Progress on the Next Phase of Karst Farm Greenway

27 Aug
Stone down on the Karst Farm Greenway 2A

Stone down on the Karst Farm Greenway Phase 2A

After a rough (and very wet) construction season that didn’t see much progress, things are finally moving again with the next phase of the Karst Farm Greenway. So-called Phase 2A consists of around a mile of new trail, starting where Phase 1 of the greenway ends at Vernal Pike at the south, running along Loesch Road, up to the railroad to the north. The red segment on the map below shows Phase 2A. I’ve written about this section before here: Next Phase of Karst Farm Greenway Begins.

Karst Farm Greenway

Karst Farm Greenway

Contractors started putting stone down yesterday, and if all goes well, paving will begin by this weekend, with an estimated completion date of the entire phase 2A by October 15th.

Phase 2B, the segment that stretches from the north end of Phase 2A all the way to Ellettsville at Hartstrait Road, is not yet funded, and so does not yet have an estimated start date.

Parking area at the north end of Phase 2A

Parking area at the north end of Phase 2A

New culverts

New culverts

Update: Rockport Road Bridge Now Open; Fullerton Pike Closed

23 Aug

Very brief update here. Last week I wrote about the near completion of the Rockport Road bridge over I-69, along with the realignment of That Road. Now the bridge and new That Road are both open! And Fullerton Pike eastbound from SR37/I-69 is now closed.

Rockport Road bridge over I-69, westbound

Rockport Road bridge over I-69, westbound

Rockport Road Bridge over I-69 Nearly Complete

16 Aug

Another quick update on I-69 construction — it appears that the Rockport Road overpass over SR 37/future I-69 is ready to open any day now, as is the new alignment of That Road connecting to Rockport Road.

The following map shows the overpass, as well as the new That Road alignment. That Road on the east side of I-69 will no longer connect to That Road on the west side. Instead, That Road on the east side will turn north (as shown by the red line below) and connect with Rockport Road. The red lines are a bit squiggly because I created them using RunKeeper, and unfortunately I can’t always walk in a perfectly straight line!

Screenshot 2015-08-16 17.22.13

Here are a few pictures of the new road:

Rockport Road, Facing Northeast

Rockport Road, facing northeast to the edge of the new construction

Rockport Road bridge over I-69

Newly paved and striped Rockport Road bridge going over I-69. The road includes on-street bike lanes in each direction, which you can see to the right.

Western Terminus of Rockport Road Overpass Over I-69

This is the western terminus of the overpass. There is still a bit of work to be done on the transition.


New alignment of That Road, which will no longer cross I-69. This is a new-terrain road that connects That Road on the east side of I-69 to Rockport Road.

Since That Road on the east side of I-69 will no longer connect with or align with That Road on the west side of I-69, there has been some suggestion that That Road on the west side should be renamed. Might I suggest “This Road”?

Progress on Harmony Road Bridge on I-69

26 Jul

The HT published an article this morning (“INDOT confident Section 4 of I-69 will open by the end of 2015“), which probably came as a surprise to a lot of people, including myself, who have seen Section 4 (the section running from Crane up to south of Bloomington) looking pretty much like a dirt road even very recently. So I decided to stop by this morning and visit what is probably the most technically challenging part of I-69 Section 4 in Monroe County — the Harmony Road bridge — and was surprised to see how far along things were.

Although the bridge isn’t finished, the prestressed concrete structural elements are all in place, and I had no problem walking across it. The contractors are in the process of excavating what appears to be about another 30 feet of earth beneath it. And the main line of the highway to the west is already paved.

IMG_2386 IMG_2388 IMG_2389 IMG_2390 IMG_2384 IMG_2385 IMG_2380 IMG_2381 IMG_2383 IMG_2375 2 IMG_2377 IMG_2378 IMG_2379  IMG_2374 2

This has been probably the most disruptive road closure in the whole project so far; I’m sure the residents will be very glad to have Harmony Road finished and open again!

Next week I’ll try to make it back down to Black Ankle Creek in Greene County, which is probably the longest bridge in the whole highway.


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