Community surveyors in several Indiana counties could see their jobs canceled by voters under a new bill passed by the 9-2 committee on Tuesday.
the measure upwritten by Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, now heads to the full house for further review.
The bill would require county election committees to put a public question on the ballot for the November 2024 general election asking whether the county should “stop paying the cost of county surveyors.”
“I think it just seems like a double thing to have community surveyors,” said Rep. Karen Engelman, R-Georgetown, who introduced the bill Tuesday to the House Local Government Committee.
Engelman has authored previous bills to eliminate the last remaining Township Assessor Offices statewide, but none have been successful.
Larger Indiana counties still employ community surveyors
In 2008, the Indiana legislature gave voters the choice of whether to delegate the duty of determining the value of buildings and land for property taxes to the County Assessor Offices. The resulting referendums abolished more than 950 such offices statewide.
There are currently 13 Township Assessors in nine different Indiana counties. In Lake County there are five of the Township Assessor Offices that would be abolished. Allen, Elkhart, Howard, LaPorte, Porter, St. Joseph, Vigo, and Wayne counties each have a Township Assessor Office.
The remaining 83 districts have only one district assessor.
However, Pressel’s draft law could endanger the remaining expert offices of the municipalities.
If a majority of voters approve the ballot question, all funds, duties, and employment positions of the office of the township assessor must be transferred to the district assessor by December 31, 2027.
The bill requires the county assessor to interview — or provide an interview opportunity — before October 1, 2027, for any Township Assessor employee in the county who applies for a position before September 1, 2027.
David Ober, vice president of taxes and public finances at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the group supports the bill, particularly a provision that would provide housing for municipal employees to give them an opportunity to apply for jobs with the district assessors’ office.
“If there are nine counties that would be affected, and each and every one of them had adopted aspects of this bill and abolished the community offices, they would be free to retain all staff – or none of the staff – as they see fit to run the office,” Over said.
Pushback from some counties with township assessors
But Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, pushed back, saying the bill was “not necessary,” noting that he had received no complaints from anyone in his district about the community rating system currently in place there.
“I think the people affected should be the ones making that decision and not a statewide decision because every place is different,” Smith said.
St. Joseph County Assessor Michael Castellon, former president of the Indiana Township Association, added that the wording of the bill “misleads taxpayers” and should be changed to ask voters if they want the township assessor want to “keep or not keep”.
“Taxpayers will still pay — whether you cut the job or the jobs there — you still have to have the jobs to get the job done,” he said. “The amount of packages has yet to be reassessed. The complexity of the appraisal process remains whether the township appraisers are present or not.”
Castellon said he plans to keep the office open as a satellite location with the same number of employees if St. Joseph County voters choose to eliminate the Township Assessor.
“Overall we think this should be sent back to the communities to vote on as they are the ones who will lose these services,” Castellon said.
Engleman claimed that county offices were more cost effective and fairer when appraising real estate. She also said the bill will not bypass the choice of voters who have previously opted to keep their community surveyors.
“The county pays for the county surveyor and they pay for the community surveyors — that doesn’t come out of the county’s money and so the county has to vote on it because they’re all paying for it,” she said. She came up with the idea of taking the townships for their own Let appraisal offices pay if they so wish.
“The whole district shouldn’t have to pay for a service that doesn’t benefit everyone,” she continued.
Although the original draft of the bill called for public issues to be put to a vote in 2026, an amended version of the bill approved Tuesday changed that date to November 2024. Engelman said that would give community reviewers time “to do all of that.” to hand over to County Assessor” if the office is abolished.
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