Like many Indiana counties, maintenance of Owen County’s road system is becoming

increasingly difficult as each budget year passes.

 

The Owen County Highway Department’s general budget is funded primarily by the state’s

gasoline and motor vehicle excise taxes through their collection when you fill up your gas

tank and visit the bureau of motor vehicles (BMV), respectively. Our Local Road & Street

budget is funded solely by the Local Option Highway User Tax (LOHUT), commonly referred

to as sur- and wheel tax, depending on the type of vehicle registration one has.

 

Over the last several years, we have seen declines in our general fund revenue due to a

few factors: 1) Increases in vehicle fuel economy have allowed vehicles to travel further

while using less, 2) the state has allowed other state agencies, like the BMV and State

Police, to use part of the gasoline tax revenue to fund those agencies before distributing the

balance of that revenue to local government. In addition, the amount of gasoline tax

collected per gallon has been 18 cents since 2003. Coupled with the dramatic increase in

the cost of oil (which is a major component to road materials), the purchasing power of that

18 cents has not kept up with costs, dropping by an approximate 19%, and 3) the downturn

in the economy has depressed auto sales which depresses motor vehicle excise tax

collections.

 

For a complete overview of Indiana’s local road funding structure, Purdue’s Local Technical

Assistance Program (LTAP) has a good presentation:

http://rebar.ecn.purdue.edu/LTAP1/Resources/lrf_slides/Indiana_Road_Funding_Presentation.pdf

 

Indiana Code: LOHUT Surtax

http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title6/ar3.5/ch4.html

 

Indiana Code: LOHUT Wheel Tax

http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title6/ar3.5/ch5.html

 

Owen County’s 2012 general highway budget is $1,906,983. During recent budget hearings for 2013, it is estimated to be $1,712,255.

 

Our Commissioners, our County Council members, and our Highway Department have heard from an increasing number of concerned residents about the deteriorating condition of many of our roads. The success of our Highway Department hinges on adequate funding and management. There are a number of things that I see can be done to help reverse the trend.

 

First, we can (and will) petition the state legislature to take action to restore the amount of gasoline tax revenues to levels more adequate to fund local government’s highway maintenance costs. Whether through state adjustments in gasoline and/or excise tax, changing their formula on revenue distributions, setting limits or reversing what other state agencies take, or some other creative solution, a long term solution is needed. The Association of Indiana Counties and Association of Cities and Towns will be helpful forces in this effort. You can also help with this effort by contacting your State Representative and State Senator with your concerns on the subject of local road funding.

 

State Representative Bob Heaton: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9841

State Representative Jim Baird: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9841

State Senator Rodric Bray: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9467

State Senator John Waterman: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9467

 

Second, we need to make sure that our own house is in order. Our County Council has been taking a closer look at all highway related budgets. We are already working on making sure we are running efficiently with good equipment and adequate staff, all under a balanced budget. This also involves the development and completion of a county road plan that details current road conditions and projected maintenance.  The work continues, but recent budget levels are still at dangerously low points which limit how much money is available to spend on actual road material.

 

Lastly, our county has had the LOHUT (as mentioned above) since 1998. There are two parts to this, a current surtax of $12.50/year ($25/year is the state limit) assessed on each private passenger vehicle, each truck <11,000 pounds, and motorcycle registered in our county. The other is a current wheel tax of $20/year ($40/year is the state limit) assessed on a variety of large trucks, commercial vehicles, buses, semis, etc. There is one exception where only $5/year ($40/year is the maximum) is assessed for trailers.

 

Owen County’s LOHUT rates have not changed since 1998. If we were to raise these amounts from anywhere between their current level up to their state limit, the additional revenue raised would go straight to our roads. Using the state’s limit as an example ($25 for the surtax & $40 for the wheel tax), Owen County would receive an additional $447,000 in revenue each year. The Town of Spencer would receive an additional $19,000 and the Town of Gosport would receive an additional $7,000.

 

LOHUT Rates from across the state:

http://www.in.gov/bmv/2677.htm

 

No one likes taxes or fees, but unlike a lot of taxes we pay, these LOHUT revenues remain here in Owen County for use on Owen County roads. Indiana Code specifically states that this revenue can only be spent on road materials, i.e. stone, chip & seal, asphalt, and other aggregate. This money cannot be used to pay for employees, raises, equipment, trucks, insurance, utilities, gasoline, etc.

 

Sometime before June 30, 2013, our County Council will be making a decision on whether to increase our LOHUT amounts or keep them the same. Any action taken would not take effect on BMV registrations until January 2014. In the meantime, I am collecting input and opinions from you as residents and taxpayers of County Council District Two. I encourage you to take the time to share your opinion with me by either sending an email to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or, by calling me direct at 829-4254.

 

Here are some types of information that will be helpful to me:

 

1) If you reside on a county road, what road is it?

2) If you live in the Town of Spencer or on a State Highway, name 2 or 3 county roads you travel most often.

3) How would you describe the condition of the road you either reside on, or the county roads you travel most often?

4) How many registered vehicles do you have?

5) Would you be in favor or not in favor of an increase in Owen County’s LOHUT amounts, and why?

6) Do you have any questions concerning our Highway Department, condition of our roads, our budget, etc.?

 

As always, I welcome any questions you may have on any local government subject, so feel free to contact me when convenient.

 

Sources: Build Indiana Council, Indiana Code, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Purdue Local Technical Assistance Program, Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, Owen County Auditor

 

 

 

Owen County Government's 2013 budget requests have now been posted.  Budget hearings will be held on August 30th and 31st in the second floor meeting room of the Owen County Courthouse.  A more detailed schedule of when each department/budget will be reviewed is available on the taxpayer resources page of this site:

 

2013 County Budget Hearings Schedule

 

Budget hearings are open to the public and are designed to provide an opportunity for you to voice concerns or questions you may have regarding county budgets. I invite you to be a part of the process. If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about the process, please ask.

 

Our County Auditor had provided budget data to me and I prepared an electronic copy in Microsoft Excel format of the budget requests for you. Here is a link to the requests contained via the taxpayer resource page of this site:

2013 County Budget Requests

Many decisions for 2013 are going to be made at these hearings based on where we are at with the current 2012 budget and the details surrounding any proposed increases in 2013.  We will match the requests with the short-term and long-term challenges we have to address. In addition, we have to review current budget appropriations and consider the state's financial projections/limitations for our county.  For 2013, we will continue to address issues such as vehicle rotations for the Sheriff and EMS Departments, wages/salaries structure adjustments and enhancements, wheel & surtaxes, economic development investments, and the growing impact of property tax caps.

 

Now that you have this information available to view, there are a couple of comments I want to make which may help put the process into perspective:

BUDGET REQUESTS

The 2013 budget requests are simply that--REQUESTS. By law, we have to advertise budget amounts in advance of the hearings. The advertised amounts are always much much higher than what winds up being approved because it gives us maximum flexibility in addressing the demand for our services and making adjustments. So, please do not be alarmed at things that may seem very high in dollar amount. As a Council member, my duty is to review each line item carefully, establish/justify needs, and match that up with priorities on any amounts before final approval.  In addition, we have to pass and operate under a balanced budget structure, so we can only pass an operating budget that we can pay for.

 

GOVERNMENT FUNDING

All county government services are funded from a variety of different revenue sources.

There is always a lot of discussion concerning property taxes. Depending on whether you live in the Town of Spencer or out in Washington Township, county government services pull between 15.5% and 20.7% of each property tax dollar you pay.  Here is a breakdown for 2012 (the current budget year):

District Two Property Tax Breakdown per Dollar
 (2012-Current Year)

Some departments and budgets are not funded by property tax.  In addition to property tax, other county revenue sources include, but are not limited to, income tax, motor vehicle taxes, service fees, 911 surcharges, interest, and state-distributed money.

Thank you for your time today. Additional information about the Owen County Council, myself, and local government can be found on this website. Please feel free to contact me with your questions/concerns.

 

 

 

SPENCER, IN – Today’s challenging economic environment has left county governments across Indiana struggling to maintain valuable services while seeing revenues decline.  As a result, county officials are often so involved in tackling their own problems that valuable information which could be shared with others—that can improve efficiency in the long run—rarely happens.  Owen County officials bucked that trend earlier this month by reaching out to their counterparts in Jefferson County, home of the historic City of Madison on the Ohio River.  Owen County Council members Anton Neff, Patty Steward, and Auditor Angie Lawson took a trip to present information to the Jefferson County Council about the project Owen County undertook to overhaul its employee compensation structure.  All three serve on the Owen County Council’s Wages & Salaries Committee.

 

Councilman Neff noted, “Once in awhile, you have to make time to share what your county is doing and see what other counties are doing too—we can learn from them and they can learn from us.”  Councilwoman Steward added, “I’m encouraged that we developed a system we can share knowing a lot of other counties have the same issues.”

 

The committee had already thought about travelling to other counties to share what had been done, but had never pursued it until a couple of months ago when Neff was on a family trip in April.  Neff commented, “I had the opportunity to attend one of their Commissioner meetings.  I met several of their officials and I learned that their council president was looking for help with their methods of compensation.  He was very interested in how we addressed that issue; and that led to our visit this month.”

 

During the trip, information was shared regarding the background and process involved with the project, how it works, how it was implemented, and how it is maintained.  Both a Power Point presentation and a host of documents were presented to the Jefferson County Council so that they might be able to pursue their own project.  Also in attendance were two of Jefferson County’s Commissioners, the Jefferson County Auditor, and the neighboring Switzerland County Auditor.  Jefferson County Council President Bill Hensler noted, “We are facing the same management challenges that were discovered in Owen County.  We are so grateful for Owen County’s willingness to share the results of their hard work.  What has been shared with us will save us many months of discovery and implementation time.  We can now begin the process of building new processes and procedures that will make Jefferson County more efficient and responsible to the tax payer.”

 

As explained in the presentation, up until four years ago, Owen County Government had an inconsistent method of compensating employees and no written policy or structure.  Issues concerning employee retention, unbalanced pay for job responsibilities, lack of information, inconsistent longevity, lack of processes for determining pay levels and amounts of hours, etc., plagued the council’s regular meetings and budget hearings.  In 2008, a council committee on Wages & Salaries was created and tasked with researching and developing a completely new compensation structure for county employees.

 

Councilman Neff noted, “We took special care to get input from our employees and department heads, as well as gather data from surrounding counties.  We essentially built a new system from the ground up without hiring an expensive consultant at taxpayer expense.  The resulting system allows for the calculation of employee compensation taking into account factors like job responsibilities, longevity, education, training, and supervisory duties.  A written policy is in place to back that up, guidelines and processes are in place to address changes, and a committee is set up to monitor it.”

 

Auditor Lawson noted, “One thing I hear over and over again at conferences from other counties is that they have employees who have been with their county for 25 – 30 plus years and when they leave with all those years of knowledge, the new hire is brought in at the same pay as that employee that had to work for all those years to get to that dollar amount.  Everyone always agrees it’s an unfair practice but have not found anything, or been able to put together a plan, to solve the issue.  Many dollars were wasted in the past with employee studies and job description consultants that never changed the system, until the county council said ‘we have to do something’ and they followed through and did it amidst much speculation that it would not amount to any structure.  Counties constantly are sending emails about employee issues related to pay, most do not have longevity in place for their employees and they see a lot of turnover as well as a lot of morale issues.  We have a great county council that really cares about the taxpayers’ dollars and their employees and has done well to balance them both.”

 

Auditor Lawson continued, “Since implementing the wage structure we have seen a considerable benefit when new employees come to the county.  It has made the payroll process so much easier when trying to figure out what a person should be paid and making sure that they are not overpaid.  We now have a structure in place that has helped tremendously with morale of our employees.  We are able to provide the department heads with the hourly rate for the new hires they may want to bring in, and people are being compensated for getting more education and training.”

 

The Owen County Wages & Salaries Committee plans to make itself available to Jefferson County officials to answer any questions as they pursue their own project.  Councilman Neff noted, “As time allows, we’ll reach out to other counties so that we may help others in need.  I am glad we could make this trip with no expense to our taxpayers and we extend a big thank you to Jefferson County officials for being great hosts and for their desire and willingness to listen.”

 

For those of you who are homeowners, this regards the filing of the "Homestead Verification Form" that can have an impact on the property tax amount you pay.  The filing of this form is different than the basic filing of a homestead exemption--please see below for more information.

 

Since 2010, an effort has been underway by the State of Indiana and each county Auditors' office to reduce homeowners' homestead exemption fraud.  Property owners wishing to continue their property tax homestead exemption must file a state-prescribed Homestead Verification Form with the Auditor by January 1, 2013.  If not, your homestead exemption will be removed for the 2012-pay-2013 property tax year resulting in a significant increase in your property tax that cannot be retroactively corrected, or credited.  Last week, approximately 1,400 of these forms (printed on pink colored paper) were mailed out with tax statements to folks who currently have the homestead exemption, but have not yet completed and filed the Homestead Verification Form.  Getting this pink form means that action is required on your part--if you currently have the homestead exemption, but do not file this form, the exemption will be removed from your tax record. Please take action now to avoid future problems.

 

Here is a link to a "Fact Sheet" with more detail about the homestead exemption, the homestead verification form, and the requirements:

 

http://www.in.gov/dlgf/files/100215-_Fact_Sheet-_Homestead_Verification_Form.pdf

 

If you have any specific questions, or have a form to turn in, you can direct those to:

 

Owen County Auditor Angie Lawson
60 S Main St, Rm 202
Spencer, IN  47460

(812) 829-5000
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Check out the new official Owen County Council District 2 facebook page for information on local government services and activity:

 

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1498870059#!/pages/Councilman-Anton-Karl-Neff/91151472599

 

 

 

The Auditor's office had released the 2011 payable 2012 property tax rates earlier this year. An official copy of the rate sheet is available in that office on the second floor of the courthouse. I would like to put a good word in for the hard work and diligence of our local officials in getting all components in place for the approval and release of these rates.  Here is a link to the taxpayer resources section of this website with the rates:

 

2012 Owen County Property Tax Rates

 

In addition to the rate sheet, I have also taken the rate information for our District and created a resource that you may also find valuable. It splits out each property tax dollar you pay by each taxing unit.  You'll be able to know to the nearest 1/1000th of a cent how much of each dollar you pay goes to each taxing unit.

All of this information is also available on this website using the following link to the taxpayer resources section:

 

2012 District Two Property Tax Dollar Analysis & Charts

 

Two things I would like to note--your final tax due is dependent on any applicable homestead, mortgage, or other exemptions that apply to each property you own.  The Treasurer's office will mail all tax statements in April and the first installment is due May 10th.  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

 

 

Paid for by Anton Karl Neff personally