Chief Justice on panel to study tax assessing, local government

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indiana Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard will co-chair a commission designed to find long-term solutions to the state's property tax crisis, the governor announced today.

Along with former Gov. Joe Kernan, the chief justice will lead the Commission on Local Government Reform beginning in early August. One of the questions the commission will look at is whether the township form of government should be abolished.

Specifically, questions before the commission will be:

- What local government offices might be eliminated to achieve efficiencies and cost savings for Hoosier taxpayers? Specifically, should township/county property tax assessors be abolished in favor of a uniform process managed by the state?

- What local units of government - including schools and libraries - might be successfully consolidated to reduce overhead and administrative expenses?

- What services or functions of local government might be reduced, eliminated, or provided in new ways to achieve savings for Hoosier taxpayers?

- Is a Constitutional Convention necessary or desirable as a means to achieve significant reforms in the structure and organization of Indiana state government?

In late December, the commission will publish a report with recommendations on how local governments can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations to lower taxpayer costs. Their ideas will be available for the Indiana General Assembly to discuss during its next session beginning in January 2008.

Additional members will be appointed to the commission soon, according to the governor's office. The commission will operate under the Center for Urban Policy and the Environment at Indiana University, which will provide staff support and facilities for the examination.

Daniels has pointed to layers of government as a prime reason for skyrocketing tax rates and said he'd asked Kernan - his predecessor as governor - and Chief Justice Shepard last month about participating in the commission. The chief justice, an Evansville native and former Vanderburgh Superior Court judge, said he's interested in the property tax issues affecting local government.

As a part of the commission, the chief justice will study a reassessment that he laid the groundwork for almost a decade ago. In December 1998, the Indiana Supreme Court found the state's tax assessment system unconstitutional and held that property needed to be assessed under a taxing system incorporating an objective reality. Lawmakers eventually passed and ordered that reassessment for 2002, and now the system is under fire again.

Overall, property taxes are expected to increase an average 24 percent across the state - the jump is much higher in Marion County, where some have doubled or tripled and the average is about 35 percent, while some commercial properties saw no increase.

Daniels and state lawmakers are also discussing the possibility of a special session, but a decision hasn't been made. The governor is ordering a full reassessment in Marion County and freezing tax bills at the 2006 amounts.

Unclear is how that will impact an ongoing legal battle over the central Indiana county's taxes. A group of homeowners filed a class action lawsuit July 10 requesting a reassessment, among other things. Hancock Circuit Judge Richard Culver has set an emergency hearing in the suit for Tuesday morning.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues