Monday night's joint meeting between the Putnam County council and commissioners drew a crowd to the county annex as they discussed the possibility of contracting out the county's reassessment.
Every Indiana county, under state code, must start evaluating all real estate this year as part of a general, statewide reassessment.
Monday's meeting was a fact-finding effort to help determine if hiring an outside contractor could save the county money.
"My approach to this is open-minded to see if there is a savings to do this," said Commissioner Jim Baird. His first question was directed to County Assessor Wanda O'Neal and her First Deputy Charlene Davis.
"Each and every property has to be physically looked at, that's 26,000 parcels. Does the person doing this have to be a Level II Assessor?" he asked.
He also questioned how many parcels could be done in a day and if there was a specific date by which the reassessments had to be completed.
O'Neal and Davis responded that their office currently has three Level II Assessors, although one is assigned to personal real estate.
"We can train her to do reassessments. The people doing the assessments only have to have a Level II assessor overseeing them," said Davis.
They told the group that the number of assessments in a day depends upon several factors, but a general rule was between 30 and 60 a day.
O'Neal also reported that she "didn't foresee it (the reassessment) happening this year." She added, "If we enter a contract now, we're in it for three years. We may be paying money we don't need to spend yet."
Davis also reported that the assessor's office has completed reassessments for several parts of the county, including Russellville, Roachdale, Van Bibber Lake, Bainbridge and Fillmore.
"We have looked at every card in these areas and taken pictures. They are loaded on the computer now," said Davis.
Baird questioned the lateness of tax bills in the past.
"Everything has not been done timely in the whole process and there have been delays in getting tax statements out. I'm asking you--where is the bottleneck in our system in getting tax bills out," he asked.
O'Neal responded there were several problems including software issues. "We're getting our new software (GUTS) this week and that will speed up everything so much," she said.
Commissioner Gene Beck commented that having late tax bills has cost just one school corporation in the county over $292,433 in interest on loans taken out to cover school costs.
O'Neal fired back, "They are not needing the money so much for the schools, but rather for them to invest. They have advance draws all year round," she said.
Beth Hinkle, an attorney and commissioner of the Department of Local Government Finance (DGLF) commented that counties all over the state, because of legislation, were late with tax bills.
"Many are waiting for software issues to catch up," added Hinkle.
Putnam County Auditor Stephanie Campbell commented that Putnam was ahead of many counties in the state.
"It's just because of the all the changes," she said. "The auditor and assessor have different software and that has also been an issue.
"The new GUTS system will at least talk to the auditor's system," added Campbell.
Council member Keith Berry questioned having two different sets of numbers on the proposed savings to the county.
"I want to know if we are looking at a savings or not," he said.
No real answer was available to his question.
Tyler Technologies used numbers given to them by the county in their proposal. Their contract allows for changes and has a 30-day cancellation. The cost quoted by Tyler is $231,935 for one year with a three-year contract totaling $695,000.
O'Neal says it does not include anything not stated in the contract and gave the example of it, including 250 parcels for new construction.
"What is there are 800 new construction parcels? It would cost an additional $25,000," she noted.
Council member Opal Sutherlin was adamant that this was not the right time to make this change in the assessors' office.
"The way everything is right now, we may not have the money. I don't think the timing is right to do this," she said.
Questions were also raised about the county using an outside contractor in the past and the reasons the real estate department was created.
"I don't see this as a dismantling of the real estate office. I see it as an opportunity to complement what they do. It can enhance the work they do and get it done quicker," responded Baird.
O'Neal asked why her name had been crossed off the original contract with Tyler. Commissioners did not seem to be aware of that and county attorney Scott Hoff commented that was tied to the DLGF and could be discussed later.
O'Neal also questioned why she had not been contacted by Tyler in the beginning of the process.
"Why was I left out of the loop?" She asked. "If I had been included I could have given them this information."
Tyler representative Jim Flake answered her stating that his company's policy was to contact the assessor's office but they were told the county was not interested.
"We did not go around assessor. We were told they weren't interested. Then we were later contacted by the county attorney and asked to make a proposal," he explained
The commissioners explained that in talking with other county officials in the state, they were given the name of an outside contractor able to do the reassessments. They asked county attorney Scott Hoff to contact Tyler Technologies to make a presentation to both the commissioners and county council members, which they did last month.
Tyler is currently working with 18 counties in Indiana including Parke, Owen and Fountain counties.
Baird apologized to O'Neal saying, "If we didn't follow the right process, I'm sorry. My goal is still the same -- to get the tax bills out timely with a system that works well and get it done as a team."
Several members of the group commented that they wanted the infighting in the courthouse to stop.
"I just don't want to hear one department blaming the other. This goes on all over the courthouse and it needs to stop," said Council President Mitch Proctor. Beck and Baird agreed with him and asked O'Neal to cooperate with Tyler in getting information so they could determine if contracting the reassessment would save the county money.
"I work for the people of the county and I want to do what is best for the county," stated O'Neal.
The issue was tabled for the committee to review. A decision will be made at the April 20 county commissioners meeting. That meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the courthouse annex.