A state tax study committee took no action on a recommendation to stop requiring local government units to publish notices of budget hearings in newspapers.
The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance pushed for lifting the publication mandate. HSPA opposed the change.
Micah Vincent, commissioner of the Department of Local Government Finance, suggested publication be replaced by a posting on the department’s website.
He made the recommendation Dec. 2 during a joint meeting of the Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy and Indiana Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations.
Vincent said such a move would make the budget process easier for local government officials, some whom have difficulty determining in which newspaper they are required to publish notices.
“Internet usage is up, and newspaper subscriptions are on the decline,” Vincent testified in support of the move to his agency’s website.
HSPA Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key, who also testified, countered with several statistics opposing the attacks on the value of publication of public notices. (For more information on Key’s testimony, see his Key Points column on Page 4.)
Vincent also claimed that if a Hoosier didn’t read the editions where a notice was published, they were out of luck.
“If you miss those two days, you miss it,” Vincent said.
Key reminded members of the two committees that the state legislature requires newspapers to also publish public notices on their websites, and that HSPA has created a statewide public notice website to display the notices from all 92 counties.
He said public notices will not disappear from newspapers’ or HSPA’s website following their publication.
Hendricks County Councilman Larry Hesson, a member of the advisory commission, supported Vincent’s contentions.
He called newspapers a “creature of the 19th century.”
No members of either commission asked Vincent any questions after his presentation.
State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, chairman of the State Tax and Financing Policy commission, had a question for Key following his defense of newspaper publication of public notices.
“Some people would say taxpayers pay twice for publication in newspapers: once to place the ad and once to buy the newspaper compared to the free access to an Internet site,” Hershman said. “Any comment you’d like to make to that contention?”
Readers don’t purchase a newspaper just for public notices, Key said.
They pay for a newspaper to get all the stories about their community, whether it’s a story about Friday’s football game, the weekly grocery store ad or news about a council meeting, he said.
“That’s the strength of publishing notices in the newspaper,” he said. “People don’t know that budget hearing notices are published in September, but they discover the notices while reading the rest of the newspaper.”
Key pointed out that most Hoosiers don’t know a state Department of Local Government Finance even exists and therefore aren’t likely to go to its website to check on budget hearing notices.
The committee took no action on proposals to improve the notice of budget hearings or to eliminate the publication requirement at the meeting.
In other discussion, committee members agreed that tax rates currently published by local government entities generally are inflated.
State law says the advertised rate can be decreased but cannot be increased, even if assessed valuations of properties fall short of the amount on which the government unit based its budget.
The timing of the budget process puts governing bodies in the position of approving a budget before knowing what assessed valuations will be, even though that number is the key to how much the tax rate will be and how much tax revenue will be generated.
Key testified that this is a decades-old issue, recalling his days as a reporter who would write stories about advertised tax rates with comments from local officials that the real rate would likely be much lower.