A Northwest Indiana lawmaker’s plan to save Hoosier property owners from the burden of successfully appealing their tax assessments year after year is set to become law after nearly being derailed amid a firestorm of controversy earlier this month.
House Enrolled Act 1166, sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, bars a county assessor from immediately hiking a property tax assessment the property owner successfully challenged at the county or state assessment appeals board in the prior tax year.
“It’s a simple bill that tries to say that if you’re going to have an appellate system it should mean something,” Soliday said.
The legislation only applies to residential or commercial property with an assessed value of $3 million or less. A successfully challenged assessment also still can be revised if there are structural, zoning or use changes to the property, or the property is sold.
Otherwise, the assessed value must remain at the post-challenge amount, except for inflationary adjustments, for however many years are remaining in the four-year reassessment cycle.
“So if there’s one year left in the normal assessment cycle that’s all you get. If there’s four years, you get four years,” Soliday said.
The measure was supported by the Indiana Farm Bureau and numerous taxpayers who Soliday said shared with him their stories of spending thousands of dollars to successfully challenge a property tax assessment only to see it bounce back the next year to the higher, disputed amount.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who works as an attorney when she’s not at the Statehouse, said her clients have been on the receiving end of such increases, sometimes just a few months after winning their assessment challenge.
“I have done these appeals. I’ve had exactly this thing happen to my clients, so I’m going to vote yes,” Tallian told the Senate Rules Committee Thursday.
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, likewise believes the measure is a “good taxpayer protection plan.”
“I don’t think it happens a lot in this state. I think the assessors do their job. But it does happen,” Niemeyer said.
Soliday told the House Ways and Means Committee about one person to whom it happened that later was identified as Chuck Williams.
Soliday said a parking lot owned by the Valparaiso real estate developer was consistently assessed at $30,000 until the assessment jumped to $110,000 in 2016, spurring Williams to appeal.
According to Soliday, prior to completing the appeals process, Williams reached an agreement with the Porter County assessor on a $50,000 valuation — but “one month later it was reappraised at $111,000.”
“All we want is fairness, and we want a system that delivers it,” Soliday said.
That prospect dimmed considerably, however, when an Indianapolis media outlet published an article April 5 hinting something more nefarious was afoot, since Williams is treasurer of the Indiana Republican Party and a major donor to organizations supporting GOP candidates.
It ominously suggested the issue was not Indiana’s property tax appeals process, but rather a “story of a Republican lawmaker pushing legislation that would benefit a top Republican party official” and “a story of how sausage gets made in the Indiana Statehouse.”
In fact, state campaign finance records show Williams only has donated a total of $1,108.54 directly to Soliday’s campaign committee since 2010.
The outlet also accused Soliday of claiming a homestead tax credit on two residences at the same time, though records show the additional credit was due to an error at the Porter County auditor’s office and Soliday later repaid the difference.
“I’m not going to cheat for $9,000 as a public figure, my God,” Soliday said.
But the news article seemingly had its intended effect as it prompted the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy to scrap Soliday’s proposal and instead merely require an advisory be included on property tax assessments letting Hoosiers know they can complain about unfair assessors to the Department of Local Government Finance.
Soliday described the news article and its impact as “brutal.” He blamed Republican Porter County Assessor Jon Snyder for stirring up trouble.
Brian Burdick, attorney for C.L. Williams and Companies, likewise objected to the news report suggesting Williams was trying to clout a tax break for himself.
“I thought it was unfairly characterized by people as an individual problem for somebody that is my client. But it’s much broader than that,” Burdick said. “It’s a systemic problem. It’s abusive to the taxpayer.”
In the end, Soliday said the need to protect taxpayers from unwarranted assessment hikes spurred him to continue working to restore the key provisions of his original legislation, and he eventually succeeded in the waning hours of the 2021 General Assembly.
The measure was approved 68-29 by the Republican-controlled House and 38-11 in the Republican-controlled Senate Thursday, just before state lawmakers adjourned their annual session until autumn.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is expected to sign the plan into law by the end of the month.
It will take effect for the tax year beginning Jan. 1, 2022.