New law to increase school referenda transparency; how many property tax appeals are successful?

ABC57 Investigates first introduced taxpayers’ complaints about higher tax bills last week.

62% of properties in the county are seeing higher property assessments, according to St. Joseph County Assessor Rosemary Mandrici.

Taxpayers are told to appeal if you do not agree with your bill, but how many people actually appeal and how many appeals are successful?

Looking back at 2018, 5,808 notices of review were filed, according to data obtained from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

Of those, 2,631 cases were resolved through a preliminary informal meeting. 2,242 cases ruled in favor of the taxpayer, while 389 were in favor of the assessor.

500 reviews were resolved through a written decision by the board; 310 of those ruled in favor of the taxpayer and 190 reviews in favor of the assessor.

In 2019, 6,461 notices of review were filed. Of those, 3,694 reviews were resolved in a preliminary informal meeting. 2,780 of those ruled in favor of the taxpayer and 765 in favor of the assessor. 149 cases were resolved in some other manner.

335 reviews were resolved through a written decision. 176 ruled in favor of the taxpayer and 159 in favor of the assessor.

Form 11’s were sent out at the end of April for next year’s billing cycle, according to Mandrici. If you do not agree with your bill, you can file an appeal until June 15.

Many taxpayers are getting hit with the perfect storm as they feel the effects of a hot real estate marker and higher tax bills because of the South Bend Schools referendum that was passed on election day.

Senate Bill 55, set to become law on July 1, could mean a lot more transparency when it comes to voting on school referenda.

Indiana State House Representative Jake Teshka sponsored the law and said it is basically like a transparency bill.

“What this bill requires is that the school board adopts a resolution that has a spending plan in it that says exactly how much we’re going to collect and what we’re going to spend it on,” Teshka said. “And then that is reviewed annually during the school’s budgeting process and a public meeting forum so everybody can engage in the process and ensure that yes, those dollars are being spent how we had intended.”

The South Bend School Corporation said it held over 82 meetings related to the referendum and put up examples, such as tax calculators, to give taxpayers a chance to understand what it all meant for them, except the calculators were based off of the 2019 tax year.

Many taxpayers said they were blindsided by the sticker price and wish the district would have been more transparent.

Teshka said the new law is all about accountability, requiring schools to adopt a plan, especially as some referenda can last for years, and school board members and administrative officials can change in that time.

“We want to be transparent and track the dollars throughout the life of that referendum,” Teshka said. “I think those two things together will really help us avoid situations in the future where folks feel disgruntled after a referendum has passed.”

There is another House Bill that would clarify the language on the ballot, including the rate at which taxes would go up or down and how that would affect taxpayers directly, according to Teshka.

Senate Bill 55 becomes law on July 1, which means any referendum coming up will have to be compliant.

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