The House wants voters to decide whether the 13 remaining township assessors in nine Indiana counties — including Lake, Porter and LaPorte — should continue to exist as elected offices once their current terms expire.

The Republican-controlled chamber voted 61-37 Monday to advance the township assessor referendum in House Bill 1035 to the Republican-controlled Senate for a decision, likely in March or April, on sending the measure to the governor to be signed into law.

If enacted by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, voters in the nine counties with township assessors will be asked on the 2024 general election ballot: "Shall the county discontinue paying for the cost of township assessors in the county?"

If a majority of the county's participating voters choose yes, then all the township assessors in the county will have the two years remaining in their terms to transfer their duties and records to the county assessor. A "no" vote would retain all the township assessors in the county.

State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, the sponsor of the measure, said county government already is paying the entire cost of operating the township assessor offices, so perhaps some money could be saved simply by having the county assessor do all the work.

"We have a county assessor. Why do we need two?" Pressel asked.

Opponents of the measure, including state Reps. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City; Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago; and Vernon Smith, D-Gary, suggested any potential savings will be illusory since the county assessor will need to hire more people to handle the work the township assessors currently are doing.

"We're assuming there's a savings. But we have not documented any savings," Smith said.

Smith and state Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, unsuccessfully tried to revise the measure in the House on Thursday to limit the ballot question to townships with assessors rather than a countywide referendum.

"Let the townships decide," Smith said. "Years ago, townships voted to decide if they no longer needed their individual assessor, and cities in my home district like Gary voted to keep them. To this day, none of the townships that still have their assessor have asked for this change."

Moseley agreed: "It's my belief that the more control people have over their communities, the more active and engaged they are in what's happening around them. When we had this referendum conversation in 2008, the vote was township wide. What's changed now? People should be trusted to make decisions about assessors in their specific township."

Similarly, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, chastised "small government" Republicans for potentially eliminating an office close to the people it serves and consolidating those duties elsewhere.

"You can't say you're against big government and vote to make government bigger," GiaQuinta said.

Pressel insisted his legislation merely gives voters in the nine counties with township assessors a choice of whether to continue operating those offices, in addition to having a county assessor on the job.

The role of the county and township assessor is to calculate the value of all the real and personal property in their jurisdiction. Property taxes then are collected by the county treasurer based on the property values determined by the assessor.

Lake County has the greatest number of township assessors remaining in the state, serving Calumet, Center, Hobart, Ross and St. John townships. Portage Township in Porter County and Michigan Township in LaPorte County also still have township assessors.
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