The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Local News

November 2, 2012

County officials’ property taxes fall

Letter to residents suggests impropriety; officials deny charges

ANDERSON, Ind. — Madison County records show the assessed value of property owned by four prominent Madison County politicians has dropped by a combined $316,800 since 2009, leading critics to charge they’ve benefited from personal and political ties to county Assessor Larry Davis.

A review by The Herald Bulletin of these and other public records confirms the assessments of property owned by County Councilmen Rick Gardner and Mike Gaskill; Gaskill’s wife, county Treasurer Kelly Gaskill; and county Recorder Angela Shelton, dropped significantly from 2009 to 2011. Gaskill, who was appointed to his seat on city council, is running for election Tuesday.

An anonymous letter mailed to property owners near where Gardner, the Gaskills and Shelton own property points to a close relationship with Davis as the reason for the tax breaks.

“Have you reviewed the assessed value of your home? How about your neighbors’ property?” the letter asks. “You might be interested to know that while your assessed values have only slightly changed or not changed, theirs have changed significantly.”

The letter details the properties in question, all of which are in Anderson or Pendleton.

It urges readers to visit the assessor’s website to review the data and concludes: “Once you have spent some time reviewing this information you will feel like you are not being treated the same as your neighbors with the political connection and power.”

Gardner and Gaskill deny impropriety.

They say they’ve simply taken advantage of the right every property owner has to appeal property assessments.

According to online assessment records and property tax bill information available in the County Auditor’s office, Gardner’s personal home and seven investment properties were valued at $365,100 in 2009. His property tax liability on the properties was $6,350, auditor records show.

By 2011, the value of those same properties was $294,600, a reduction of $70,500. And his property tax liability was $5,144, a net reduction of $1,206, records show.

Gardner said he appealed assessments on property he owns, including his personal house as far back as 2009 when Cheryl Heath was county assessor.

In an interview, Gardner talked about each of the properties in question — many of which he bought in the late 1990s — and which critics say show he’s received preferential treatment.

“Until 2006, I didn’t know you could file an appeal,” Gardner said. “But I’m entitled to everything that anyone else gets.”

In 2009, Gardner’s personal residence was assessed at $126,600. By 2011, the assessment on the 1,540-square-foot home was $99,900, a reduction in assessed value of $26,700 that reduced his annual tax liability on the property by $329 during that period, according to auditor records.

There were a number of factors in how the value of his home was calculated that Gardner said he had problems with. Central air conditioning was one.

At one time the house had functioning central air, Gardner said, but it had been disconnected. He installed room air conditioners. The compressor remained on its pad next to the house, however.

What Gardner didn’t know until he looked at his property record is that he was still paying property taxes on the amenity, which was valued at $3,200. He thought that was unfair and filed an appeal.

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