MONROE COUNTY, Ind. -- Thousands of Bloomington homeowners are suffering from sticker shock after opening their spring property tax bills to find substantial increases.
Beth Boothby lives in Orchard Estates in Washington Township and saw a $1,232.52 increase, or 56 percent jump, in her property tax bill compared to the previous year.
“It was alarming when we opened it,” said Boothby. “The bulk of that is the increase in our township tax rate.”
Ken Hydinger, a Bloomington Township resident, told Call 6 Investigates his property tax bill jump by more than $900.
Boothby contacted Call 6 Investigates Kara Kenney saying she and her neighbors were surprised by the “dramatic” increase.
“There are people that are older that don’t have mortgages on their property anymore, so that’s going to have a huge impact financially on them,” said Boothby. “This is our money, and this is what everybody works hard for regardless of your situation.”
Voters in Monroe County also just approved a tax hike for its schools, which makes the townships’ tax rate increase a bitter pill to swallow.
“Our tax rate for the township is now higher than the school district, and our schools still need more money,” said Boothby.
Washington Township, where Boothby and her neighbors live, does not have a fire station.
The nearest fire station is more than five miles away in Bloomington Township.
Faced with I-69 cutting through, township leaders are creating a new fire territory and a new fire station, expected to be built just west of the new interstate.
Taxpayers like Boothby will have to foot the bill for the new fire station.
However, she and her neighbors never got to vote at the polls on such a tax increase.
“The issue is how this was put in place, and the effort they took to not communicate with the people it affected and the people that are paying for it,” said Boothby. “There’s been no mailers sent out. They obviously didn’t have everyone’s address and that would probably make the most sense to communicate with the community.”
Call 6 Investigates took homeowner concerns to Washington Township Trustee Barb Ooley, who agreed to an on camera interview.
“I truly understand why people are upset,” said Ooley. “I pay taxes myself. This increase hurts.”
Ooley’s tax bill went up by more than 40%, but the trustee said Washington Township can no longer rely on nearby Bloomington Township to pay for and provide their fire service.
“It’s not fair to Bloomington Township to have to continue to foot the bill for us,” said Ooley.
Ooley denied the public was not included in the process.
“First of all, this is a representative democracy, so when they voted for the township board and the trustee, they did in effect vote for the things the board votes for," said Ooley.
Ooley said they held three public hearings on the new fire territory and posted notices in the newspaper, online, on government offices, and elsewhere.
Washington Township officially joined the new fire territory on March 29, 2016, Ooley said.
“We really felt we had done our due diligence in getting the word out,” said Ooley.
Ooley said they did not send out mailers to the 882 households in Washington Township.
“We’re not a rich township, so we’re trying to do everything as frugally as possible,” said Ooley. “Looking back, had we thought of a mailer, that’s something we could have possibly done, but we did follow the state guidelines.”
The new fire station is expected to improve response times and homeowners insurance rates for many residents.
“We need to be able to provide emergency services of all types on both sides of I-69 in Washington Township and in Bloomington Township as well,” said Vic Kelson, Bloomington Township board president. “It’s hard to get across the road and it’s getting harder. People in rural communities deserve to have the same level of public safety protection as the people who live anywhere else.”
Kelson does not believe voters should have to sign off on a tax increase for emergency services, such as a new fire station.
“It’s hard to have a referendum for a problem that’s as complex as emergency services,” said Kelson. “How do you vote on that? We have to count on our elected officials to execute policies that are good for the community.”
The land has not yet been purchased for the new fire station, but Bloomington Township Fire Chief Joel Bomgardner hopes it will open in 2018.
“This is the best use of your taxpayer money,” said Chief Bomgardner about the new fire station.
Currently, firefighters Bloomington Township Station #5 on Old State Road 37 did 853 runs in 2016, and has done 250 runs so far in 2017. About 30 percent of that includes runs to neighboring Washington Township.
They’ve hired additional firefighters just to be able to serve their neighbors.
“It can take us 12 to 15 minutes,” said Bomgardner. “The ideal is under 6 minutes.”
The department handles car crashes, fires, water rescues, medical emergencies, and other situations not handled by police.
As for Beth Boothby and her neighbors, the new fire station will be too far away to make a difference in response times.
However, she and thousands of homeowners will feel the impact of the property tax increase.
“It doesn’t really matter what we think, they’re going to do what they want,” said Boothby. “It just makes you feel very discounted.”
Township officials told Call 6 Investigates homeowners will not see their tax rate go back to what it once was, however, not every property tax bill will be as high as Spring 2017.
PROPERTY TAX TIPS
• Review your property tax bill
• If you have questions about an increase, contact the taxing unit (township, school district, library, etc.) and ask where the money is going
• Go to county assessor and review your property record card; look for
• If you believe your assessment is wrong, you can file an appeal
• Appeal forms can be found here http://www.in.gov/dlgf/8516.htm
• To learn more about the appeals process: http://www.in.gov/dlgf/2508.htm