ANDERSON, Ind. —
The two challengers in the Madison County assessor’s race — Republican Larry Davis and independent candidate Linda Smith — stressed that change was needed for the county to move forward. Both have never worked in the assessor’s office but said they have worked closely with the office and have seen weaknesses that need addressed.
The current assessor — Democrat Cheryl Heath — didn’t return phone messages Monday and Tuesday and was out of the office on Wednesday.
Davis said he is the only candidate who is a licensed tax representative for homeowners and businesses. In that capacity he represents people before the property tax board of appeals as well as the Indiana board of appeals. He is also level 1 and 2 certified assessor and appraiser, passing both exams at 100 percent. Davis has owned Hoosier Property Tax Consulting and Appeals for a year where he said he fights to reduce unfair assessments.
Before opening the business, Davis said he has been involved in real estate buying and managing investment properties.
Important issues in the race
“I have seen so many problems in the assessor’s office and not just this year but it has happened over the last several years, and these problems have affected people’s lives,” Davis said. “Someone’s home or business is the largest investment they’ll make. And what I’ve seen is people being taxed at a very high rate and done so unlawfully.”
Davis said full payment of tax bills for two different years was required in 2009. He also said the Department of Local Government Finance in Nov. 2007 threatened to initiate a process to revoke Heath’s assessor certification for failure to provide timely data sets.
“When you have 5,000 properties on tax sale, it is because the assessor’s office has not met the statutory guidelines,” Davis said. “We received three years of payments in a 16-month period and many of them were inaccurate. All of that created undue hardships on people, and their properties are now up for tax sale because of non-payment.”
In 2008, tax bills payable in 2009 charged property owners who did not have a homestead exemption, mostly in Richland Township, 3.5 percent instead of 2.5 percent as instructed by law, Davis alleged. For 2009 tax bills payable in 2010, more than 8,000 properties in the county were charged at a rate of 3 percent instead of the legal rate of 2 percent, he said. Davis claimed that error represents an overcharge of more than $4 million.
Goals if elected
Davis said the first thing that needs to be done is to provide Madison County residents and business owners with accurate and fair assessments. He would accomplish that, he said, by doing the job with due diligence and making sure the properties are assessed at a fair and equitable rate with the guidelines established by the state looking at market value of the property.
“Individuals have used the assessors office to generate revenue for the government and that is not fair,” Davis said. “They are way too high.”
He said the backlog of appeals needs to be quickly and fairly resolved with adjustments — when warranted — being made. Residents and business owners also need to be made aware of every lawful exemption they can get.
“Taxes are complicated,” Davis said. “That’s why it is important to have an assessor who knows what they are doing.”
Heath is the current Madison County Assessor and is a state certified assessor appraiser and inheritance tax appraiser. In an election questionnaire she filled out for The Herald Bulletin, Heath said she attends continuing education classes to keep abreast of changing regulations and maintain certification. She said she has 36 years’ experience in the assessing field.
Goals if elected
Heath wrote in the questionnaire that she plans to continue to upgrade the quality of assessments, provide day-to-day accessibility to the taxpayer, ensure that property tax caps are applied correctly to each class of property and to complete the general reassessment by the given deadline.
“Utilizing the expertise of an Indiana firm, I have updated the software and computer technology capabilities within the office,” she wrote in the questionnaire. “As a result of the elimination of township assessors, all the assessing records are now maintained in one centralized location. This allowed us to develop uniformed record keeping procedures and minimize assessing errors.”
Smith is a state-certified assessor and appraiser at both levels 1 and 2. She said she has nearly 20 years of dedicated county service and proven leadership of department management in county government. Smith said she has a proven record in management of multiple county funds and investments and has a respected work ethic.
She was appointed as the administrative assistant and office manager for the County Commissioners in Jan. 2007. Before that she served in the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office for 16 years — nine as juvenile division paralegal and then seven years as chief administrative officer. In that position, she supervised 22 employees.
Important issues in the race
Smith said the reason she’s running is that she’s seen a need for a change in the assessors office and she wants to be that positive change.
“I observed a lot of chaos in the office,” she said. “There have been a lot of mandates from the state government and those are needed. You can either see those things as a challenge and rise to the occasion, or you can get tripped up by it. Tripping definitely happened and we are seeing the affects of that. There is a lack of strong leadership which is needed for a successful office.”
Goals if elected
Smith said the biggest problem right now is in the assessments of properties. There are too many miscalculations in the billings, she said, so her first priority would be to take care of those billing problems.
“I would go in and identify the inaccuracies and miscalculations to make sure things are fair,” she said. “We need to recreate the office and adopt proven policies to enhance integrity and timeliness of work product.”
Smith said she wants to be sure there are trained employees who can work with confidence. She plans to institute a practice of transparency.
“There are many ways to bring the public on board,” Smith said. “There should be access to the property record cards online so people can see why and how we arrived at the assessment for their property value.”
Her plan is to incorporate her management and dedicated work experience at the court house into the assessor’s office.
“I want to restore the public’s trust in county government,” Smith said. “That is a huge problem right now. People are uncomfortable and nervous. I’m promoting fairness, accuracy and accountability in the office.”