The steam rolling through Indiana’s cities and countryside has little to do with the oppressive heat and humidity that have settled upon them this August. It has everything to do with the ongoing controversy over higher property tax bills that socked Hoosiers this summer and triggered calls for reform.

It is fitting that the heat generated by the budding taxpayer revolt remains high as units of local government undertake the task of formulating their budgets for 2008. The annual exercise begins in late summer with hearings into budget requests and adoptions by controlling boards such as city and county councils and school boards. The process culminates in the fall with final approval of budgets by the State Board of Accounts.

When it’s over, the tax rates are set for the coming year based on the amount of money governmental units have been approved to spend.

The reasons for this year’s steep rise in property taxes are many and complex. Some, but not all, can be traced to the state level. At least a portion of the responsibility properly rests with local government spending. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

That’s not to say the taxing and spending is being done in an irresponsible fashion. Citizens expect, even demand, a competent level of service from their government. Such services don’t come cheap. And the salaries of those who deliver the services are the largest expenditure governments will make.

Local elected and appointed officials who play critical roles in setting budgets and spending taxpayer money can’t solve the property tax crisis on their own. But they can step forward and do their part by pledging to the taxpaying public that they will tighten their belts and seek ways to curb government spending increases.

Taxpayers should expect nothing less. When personal and family budgets are strained by higher property tax bills, people have to cut back. With that in mind, government officials should do likewise.

We urge local officials to take a closer look at their roles in the budgeting process this year and adopt a hard-nosed approach to spending increases. It’s not an easy position to be in. Special interests inside government expect to have their wheels nicely greased each and every year. But we suspect taxpayers will appreciate any efforts made on their behalf by elected reps.

There is no question taxpayers will be watching the process closely.

The heat is on.

– Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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