The Putnam County offices of the Assessor and Auditor are once again under fire from the State of Indiana's Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF).
In a letter sent Aug. 24 by newly appointed DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave to the Putnam County Commissioners, County Assessor Wanda O'Neil and County Auditor Stephanie Campbell were commended for their hard work and timeliness in submitting datasets to the department. They were also informed that both offices were in noncompliance for additional datasets.
Campbell must submit 2006 sales data and O'Neil must provide a 2007 auditor dataset to the state. Both are due by Oct. 15. O'Neil says her office is dealing with the issue now.
DLGF will not review or approve any 2007 or 2008 budget or pending debt issues, such as construction projects and emergency loans in Putnam county until the offices are compliant.
Additionally the DLGF is requiring several more datasets from 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. These present a bigger problem for the county employees.
Nancy Dennis, Real Estate Supervisor in the assessor's office isn't sure how they can become compliant with the additional dataset requests, some of which date back to 2003-04. They have a new computer system and no way to go back into the old reports. And their software vendor Manatron-Proval cannot access the information for them. Dennis is trying to work with the state to determine the exact issue(s).
"At this point, I don't have any answers," reports Dennis. "We had to be in compliance at the time or we wouldn't have had our tax rates set. We're trying to work through it. But, we just don't know what to do about it until we talk to the state this week."
The commissioners were notified earlier this year that a problem existed in the auditor's datasets from March 2007 and a "not compliant" dataset from October 2006 from the assessor.
The earlier issues were results of problems with software vendors and have been addressed with the state.
One of the reasons the state appears to be looking at past information is a result of Governor Mitch Daniels and the Indiana General Assembly who are conducting an in-depth analysis of the Indiana property tax system.
Cheryl Musgrave was named as the DLGF's new commissioner less than two months ago and offers no explanation of the past commissioners work or of her departure from the position.
Mary Jane Michalak, new Director of Communications for the agency says that data collections have been an ongoing issue.
"The department published data standards in July 2003 requiring Indiana counties to submit property tax data (assessor, auditor, sales and personal property) to DLGF. They intended to use the information to begin building a statewide system for state leaders to use in modeling property tax policy decisions and to create a repository of information," reported Michalak.
She added that because of a lack of submissions the general assembly authorized withholding monies.
After an inventory conducted of submitted data in the summer of 2005, status records were sent to all parties. Since then, routine letters have been mailed every four to five months to advise counties of their status.
Faulty information is being addressed now because the department, under new leadership, is required to ensure accurate data.
When asked how serious the DLGF was in threats to withhold funds, Michalak replied, "The state never wants to withhold funds from counties. However, we are required to ensure counties provide accurate data for leaders to use when making property tax policy decisions. The decision to withhold funds is one we don't take lightly; the decision comes only after all other avenues of gaining compliance have been exhausted."
While Musgrave plans to address the deficiencies in her agency, local assessors and auditors like O'Neil and Campbell have been directed to submit past information which they may not be able to access or provide to the state.
Musgrave plans to lobby to shift the responsibility for assessments from townships to counties.
This change would leave the agency with fewer than 100 assessors to monitor.
It will be up to the legislature and the governor to make such changes.
Meanwhile county assessors and auditors are faced with having to clean up datasets submitted years ago to the DLGF.
"We'll just have to find a way to do what we need to do," acknowledged Dennis.