Though citizens of Putnam County still eagerly await their property tax rebates, county official urge property owners to be patient and readjust their expectations -- checks may be smaller than the state originally estimated and they will be a long time in coming.
Early calculations of the property tax rebate, intended to soften the blow of last year's hefty property tax increases, led state financial analysts to estimate the average payout to be $240 per property tax payer, a figure reported by the BannerGraphic in November. Though that rate was said to fluctuate depending on tax district and property value, local officials say Putnam County homeowners will not fare that well, and meeting the state mandate will put a dent in the budget of at least two county offices.
In November, officials from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) announced rebate allotments for each county in addition to Homestead Refund Percentage Rates.
Putnam County property owners were said to receive $1,163,080 in extra property tax relief, but local officials say that when spread among 10,000 eligible property owners, the rebate amounts to pocket change.
"People are expecting rebates of $400-500," said Putnam County Treasurer Janet Deaton. "Don't expect big checks because they're not going to come."
According to a memo sent to the Putnam County Auditor's office by the DLGF, the rebate can be calculated by using one of the following two methods:
* Homestead Refund Percentage Rates multiplied by the Taxpayer's Net Tax liability after SPTRC to calculate the refund amount; or
* Recalculate the homestead credit amount using the original homestead credit rate plus the Homestead Refund Percentage Rate, and then subtract the original homestead credit amount. The difference equals the Homestead Credit Refund.
In the end, many homeowners will receive somewhere between $0 and $100.
In addition to slimmer checks, the county will also be hit with a hefty bill to meet the state mandate as written in House Bill 1001-2007. According to the mandate, the county must issue paper checks instead of rolling the rebate over into next year's property tax bill.
County Auditor Stephanie Campbell says her staff is eagerly awaiting their crack at the project, but that her office had to request $10,000 to $12,000 in additional funds to pay for checks and postage. That is compounded by the mandate that even those property owners who receive no rebate at all must receive checks for $0.
In addition to increased cost, local officials also say that calculating payments and processing those rebates rebate checks has created a bureaucratic juggernaut, and there is still no end in sight.
The workload, comprised of calculating individual rebates, cross-referencing with delinquent property tax bills and issuing checks is balanced between the Auditor and Treasurer's office, but the Indiana Legislature handed down no firm deadline for payments.
"We have begun working on it and it's very time consuming," said Deaton. The treasurer added that she was forced to hire extra part-time staff to handle the workload and is not yet sure how big a hole that will put in her annual budget.
According to Deaton, the account for each eligible land parcel must be evaluated for any delinquent taxes that would eat into a property owner's rebate check and then manually adjusted.
"There is an estimated 10,000 parcels to search through, so it is going to take a while to get this done," she said.
Though Deaton says that property tax rebates are a high priority for her office, the Treasurer has to balance that with the office's daily duties and its court ordered workload, such as sewer assessments for Heritage Lake, that has to take precedent over all other business.
"Patience is a virtue for everyone," said Deaton, "there is a lot of work to be done."