By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
Since the inception of property tax caps at the state level, spending on core services in Howard County has dropped by almost 18 percent per person since 2007.
Larry Blanchard, a financial consultant to the Lake County Council, conducted a study of the impact of property tax caps on all 92 Indiana counties comparing 2007 with 2012.
Blanchard’s study found per capita spending in Howard County declined at the fourth highest rate in Indiana, trailing only Carroll, Orange and Hendrick counties.
“We wanted to see where we were at after the property tax caps were put in place,” Blanchard said. “We looked at the five years of frozen levies.”
In the study, Blanchard looked at the general fund budget for each county and not tax levies, which could vary from county to county based on local income taxes.
“There were a couple of surprises,” he said. “Howard County was one of them.”
The study has attracted a lot of attention, Blanchard said.
“We want legislators to see this information and how the tax caps have impacted local units of government.”
In 2007, the per capita cost for the Howard County general fund was $273.95, which ranked 59th highest among Indiana’s 92 counties. The per capita cost for 2012 dropped by $48.07 to $225.80 which ranked the county as 20th in the state.
The Miami County per capita rate dropped by $9.37 from 2007 to 2012 to $227.36, a decline of 6.8 percent. The county’s ranking was 24th in 2012 as compared to 37th in 2007.
Tipton County experienced an increase of $85.04 per resident for the operation of core county government services from 2007 to 2012 to $343.34, an increase of 32.9 percent. The county’s ranking went from 50th highest to 75th.
“This is a supreme compliment for Howard County,” Richard Miller, president of the Howard County Council, said. “This is another county doing a study that identified the good work we’re doing.”
Miller said county officials work very well together in looking for ways to reduce spending while providing those core services.
The bulk of the $4 million reduction in the general fund has come over the past five years through the budget process, Miller said.
“We have had cooperation from each and every department,” he said. “The departments are holding the line on spending. The number of transfers of funds at the end of the year is considerably lower, which means those departments are not exhausting the funds. There has been a big savings in the day-to-day operations. The use of technology software has resulted in a reduction in spending.”
Miller said the trend of having less funding available for the operation of county government as a result of the property tax caps will continue.
He said 50 percent of all property in Howard County now falls under the property tax cap.
Councilman Stan Ortman said since he joined the council in 2000 there has been a concern with all expenditures by the county.
“Although the different departments are all independent of each other, they work well together to look for ways to reduce spending,” he said. “The departments have helped keep the expenses down.”
Advancements in the technology used by the county are allowing more work to be done with the same number of employees, Ortman said.
He said by resolving tax issues with Chrysler and Delphi when both companies were going through bankruptcy procedures, county officials brought $60 million into the county which was shared by all taxing units.
“We knew our resources would be limited as a result of the tax caps and worked to make adjustments in spending,” Ortman said. “The groundwork was put in place several years ago when the county was faced with an almost zero operating balance and spending reductions were implemented.”