Putnam County said in non-compliance with State

Monday, July 30, 2007

Putnam County has been deemed non-complaint by state officials who have threatened to withhold state funds and the 2008 budget orders, and to not approve budgets or bond orders for local government agencies.

The Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) notified the Putnam County Commissioner in a July 20 letter that it requires an immediate hearing to address the county's non-compliance with data submission statues and regulations.

Unless the commissioners create a plan to rectify the problem by Aug. 15, distributions of property tax replacement credit (PTRC) monies to schools, libraries and other agencies could be delayed. Bond orders for any unit of government could be held up and 2008 budget orders might be withheld unless the county becomes compliant.

The letter specifically cites a "No data/Certified" dataset from March 2007 from the county auditor and a "not compliant" dataset from October 2006 from the assessor's office.

The document further states, "data and actions requested in this letter are crucial to providing a fair system that taxpayers can trust."

The document says that failure to submit the missing information by the August deadline can also result in legal action against the county auditor and assessor. Also, sales disclosures for 2006 sales may not be reviewed and ratio studies submitted for approval for 2007 assessments may not be reviewed.

Nancy Dennis, Real Estate Supervisor for the Assessor's office explained, "Our software provider Manatron-Proval downloaded our information and sent it to the state. When they did they excluded the values for not for profits, as they had done in years past. When they did that it made our gross values be off 4.21 percent from what the county auditor sent. The auditors information contained the not for profit values."

"The books are suppose to balance," noted County Assessor Wanda O'Neal.

The assessors office was able to identify the issue and asked Manatron-Proval to begin working on correcting the situation last Thursday.

Dennis believes they will be compliant by August 15 if not sooner.

"The state asked me two years ago to go in and make sure all coding was correct. It is right in our system," she commented. Manatron-Proval provides software services to a number of counties in Indiana.

Putnam County Auditor Stephanie Campbell submitted information on the issue to the BannerGraphic via fax, and declined a telephone interview about the situation.

Campbell stated that she received information from her software company that there were some problems with the data after making some state required changes.

"We started to work with them to make the necessary changes to make us compliant, but were delayed 4-6 weeks while our software company worked on abstracts and settlements with other counties," Campbell said. She also says that they are now working on the data and hope to send it to the state soon.

The software issues for both offices were independent of each other.

The Putnam County Commissioners also did not respond either to phone messages or e-mails sent to them last week.

Local schools and libraries as well as township offices may be impacted by any delays in the PTRC distributions.

North Putnam Superintendent Murray Pride told the BannerGraphic that local schools are greatly impacted, as are all local government offices when something occurs which slows down the distribution of property tax monies.

"June and December is when we receive our draws (disbursements). Typically December isn't a problem but June has been unsure because of the reassessment," Pride said. "It leaves us in a state of unknown. The reality is that anything that delays or slows down the process creates a problem for us.

"When we borrow money, we increase our debt service and it costs us. And we're not the only ones affected," he added. "Libraries and the county and townships all depend upon that disbursement."

Greencastle Schools Superintendent Robert Green agrees with Pride.

"The biggest impact if tax bills are not prepared and sent on time or payments are held up is the additional cost to tax payers because the school has to borrow money and pay interest on it," he noted.

"The best thing is to do away with using the property tax to fund the general fund for the schools. We need to change the system so that sales and income tax are used for the general fund. We would have more equity across the state if we did that," Green stated.

"It wouldn't make a difference in the types of school buildings you build. You can offer same programs that other schools offer and compensate teachers the same as richer schools do. It gives us a better chance of equalizing instruction and giving all students a better opportunity," Green continued.

"Right now, a delay in receiving the disbursements just means additional problems and costs for the school systems and for taxpayers," he said.

Putnam County Library Director Alice Greenberg sees the immediate issue for the library to be the PTRC payment in November.

"I guess I'm in the wait-and-see camp," stated Greenberg. "We'll just have to see how it all falls out."

The letter from the DLGF to the county commissioners requested them to hold an immediate hearing to create a plan to rectify the problems. The state also requested times, dates and locations of all local budget hearings or notifications of the hearings a minimum of seven days prior to the scheduled date. So far this issue is not on their agenda. The next regularly scheduled meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse Annex at 209 W. Liberty St. The meeting is open to the public.

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