Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

County auditor says county computer system caused incorrect budget order

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Auditor Jim Kopp said Wednesday that the auditor’s office was not responsible for the incorrect figures of the Town of Burns Harbor gross assessed value in the 2010 Porter County Budget Order and Tax Rates issued last week by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.

The Chesterton Tribune reported on Monday that the DLGF will revise the 2010 county budget order after they were notified by Kopp last week that the Mittal Steel tax abatements were not dropped from the final assessed value.

The value was submitted for $637 million, but would reduce to $511 million applying the abatement deductions. If the incorrect 2010 tax bills would have been issued, Burns Harbor would have seen shortfalls in their funding near $600,000 according to Burns Harbor Clerk-Treasurer Jane Jordan.

Kopp said the reason the value was wrong was that the Low Software System used by the county assessors is not compatible with the software in the auditor’s office. He said he pushed for the county to purchase an integrated tax system but his argument was “thrown out the window” when the county signed with Low in 2009.

When the auditor’s office went to apply exemptions, abatements or deductions to determine the net assessed values, they did not know which figures were incorrect because the formulas were not compatible with their system, Kopp said.

“I have nothing in my table to subtract these exemptions because it doesn’t exist in Low,” he said.

Kopp said he was made aware of the incorrect values when Jordan questioned him and the state at the DLGF 1472 open hearing for Porter County on Feb. 5.

Jordan asked the state why her assessed budget was 20 percent higher than the previous year after she could not identify what would cause such a “jump.” She said the assessors told her that the numbers were coming from personal property. Jordan said the personal property from Mittal Steel should have been abated.

Kopp said he talked with the personal property assessor’s office who reported that the assessment was correct and the Mittal Steel property abatements had expired, but the data was not recognized by the Low system. Kopp said the system is not required by the state guidelines to recognize the data.

Porter County Assessor John Scott could not be reached for comment this morning.

Jordan said she doesn’t know the exact process of how the assessor and auditor determine the tax values, but the abatements should have been caught sooner. She did say she was glad the correction was made before the tax bills went out which would have caused shortfalls for both Burns Harbor and the county.

Kopp said neither office knew that the figures were incorrect because this is the first time the system had been used. He said the computer system will be fixed for next year to provide accurate data.

Kopp said major problems with data entry and the computer system already existed when he took office in 2007. The county has switched their software vendor for the auditor’s office three times since then and experiences problems to this day even after a consultant was hired for close to $250,000 to fix the problems in 2008. Kopp said his office has received their fair share of criticism, but the staff has made great strides to correct the problems.

“We need to make it clear of what’s really going on here,” he said.

Kopp said handling tax information is only one of the many duties the auditor’s office is responsible for. The office also handles medical insurance and payroll for county employees as well as maintaining the GIS system.

The DLGF will continue to work with the auditor’s office to issue a revised budget order which is expected by the end of this week. The new order will include corrected tax rates for all the taxing units since the county’s assessed value will be modified.

The Chesterton Tribune will run a list of revised tax rates as soon as they are presented by the DLGF.

 

Posted 2/18/2010

 

 

 

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