The Herald Bulletin

November 2, 2012

County officials’ property taxes fall

Letter to residents suggests impropriety; officials deny charges

By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin

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.

‘Integrity of office’

Mike Gaskill declined to talk specifically about the assessments on properties he owns when The Herald Bulletin requested an interview. He said political rivals were seeking to discredit him because of his conservative fiscal policies.

Several days later, however, Gaskill sent an email statement saying the allegations that he’s received preferential treatment are false.

Like Gardner, Gaskill and his wife, Kelly, own their personal home and seven investment properties.

In 2009 the combined assessed value of those properties was $914,000, according to assessor and auditor records. Their total property tax liability was $14,407, according to auditor records.

By 2011, the assessed value of those properties was $695,100, a drop of $218,900. And the Gaskills’ property tax liability declined to $10,822 for a net reduction from 2009 of $3,585.

Records also show that the assessed value of Shelton’s home dropped significantly from 2009 to 2011, while the value of homes owned by County Councilmen Mike Phipps (running for reelection Tuesday) and David McCartney showed modest reductions in assessed value during that period.

In 2009, records show Shelton’s home with an assessed value of $91,100. In 2010, online documents indicate there was an error in the assessment, and the assessed value of Shelton’s home was reduced $27,400 to $63,700. As a result of the changes, however, Shelton’s annual property tax liability went down from $911 in 2009 to $559 in 2011, a reduction of $352.

Similarly, the assessed values of Phipps’ and McCartney’s homes went down from 2009 to 2011. Phipps’ dropped from $152,600 to $133,100 in that time; the value of McCartney’s property jumped from $64,400 in 2009 to $72,600 the following year before dropping to $59,900 in 2011.

Gaskill said he believes Davis is the real target of critics.

Davis declined to discuss specific details of Gardner or Gaskill’s property assessments.

“I want everybody’s assessment to be fair,” he said. “The integrity of this office is very important to me.”

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.