Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Budgeting from a different perspective

One trend is that of "outcome budgeting" for public sector entities, from Governing Magazine.

We are tasked regularly with working alongside professional financial officials with Indiana Cities, Towns, Townships, Schools, and Counties. We would be pleased to review the options for your next budget cycle.

Another twist in outcome budgeting is that one agency can make a case that it can achieve another agency's results better, faster and cheaper, and propose to take it over. In Baltimore, Housing and Community Development saw a better way to handle burglar alarm registration, then housed in the police department. Housing's proposal integrated redesigns of the property and burglar alarm registration processes, which will improve service, increase revenue and save the 30 percent that had gone to a private contractor to collect false alarm fees. This combined redesign will net an additional $2.6 million. It will also free up police for more important work.

In some cases, the fiscal year 2011 budget cycle was used to put gears in motion for more significant change in the next cycle. For example, special recreation facilities, like ice rinks, driving ranges and others have been put on a path to self-sufficiency. Before, they received appropriations for their costs and their revenues went into the general fund. They had no incentive to ensure that revenues exceeded costs. Now their revenues will go into a special fund from which they can cover their costs. This year, they will still receive some, but less, general fund money and have been put on notice that general fund support is time-limited.

Another benefit of outcome budgeting is more accurately reflecting the true and full cost of activities, which facilitates the value comparisons that support better budget choices. For example, this year, the Balimtore stopped "free" collection of trash at public housing units; public housing will now have to bear that cost.

These results did not come easily. There were rough edges and the process required extraordinary effort. Kleine emphasizes that, "Outcome budgeting is not for the faint-of-heart. You need to have full commitment from the top and be prepared to stick with it for the long term."

Outcome budgeting (or its variants) is a growing trend, and has been used in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Savannah, Ga., as well as California and Colorado, as tough fiscal times are spurring reexamination of priorities.

After the fiscal year 2011 budget was adopted, Kleine and his staff held focus groups, listened carefully, and improved the process for the next cycle. New Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has endorsed outcome budgeting and personally kicked off Baltimore's fiscal year 2012 cycle. Everyone looks forward to even better results the second time around. Value-based decisions are becoming the norm in Baltimore's budgeting.

To learn more about outcome budgeting in Baltimore, please contact Budget chief Andrew Kleine at Andrew.Kleine@baltimorecity.gov.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ideas for public sector management today

Thought we'd post some of the articles we're reading on public sector (municipal finance) management today:

Could technology be the single best place for big budget savings for Indiana cities and towns?

We'd love to hear some best uses and benchmarks, who's using technology right now to save money in the delivery of government services?

The first wave of social and new media is rippling onto government shores, are you using social media in your municipal public sector organization? What are the results and best practices?

The 2010 data, released in September, shows that technology used by state governments is more consolidated than ever. In 2004, 46 percent of states said their technology systems were highly decentralized, with individual agencies operating their own -- sometimes duplicative -- systems. Only about 20 percent considered themselves highly consolidated. This year, those figures are reversed, with 42 percent viewing themselves as mostly consolidated and 21 percent predominantly decentralized.

How are you consolidating and providing more efficiency in IT in your organization?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cender Company in the news

We were able to make a bid/proposal to work with the Town of Burns Harbor on the establishment of a redevelopment allocation area and a possible bond refinancing.

Article in Chesterton Tribune on bids from Cender and Company and Umbaugh Associates

Cender and Company was awarded the work and will work with the Town of Burns Harbor on both projects. We are pleased to be working with yet another municipal organization in Northwest Indiana.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lake County Budget Schedule

From Lake County Indiana site:

Wednesday, September 9,1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop

Thursday, September 10, 1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop

Tuesday, September 15, 10:00 a.m.- Budget Workshop*

Wednesday, September 16, 1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop*

Thursday, September 17, 1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop

Tuesday, September 22, 10:00 a.m.- Budget Workshop

Wednesday, September 23, 1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop

Thursday, September 24, 9:00 a.m.- 1st Reading

Tuesday, September 29, 9:00 a.m.- Budget Workshop

Wednesday, September 30, 1:00 p.m.- Budget Workshop

Thursday, October 1, 1:00 p.m. - Budget Workshop

Tuesday, October 6 , 9:00 a.m.- 2nd Reading Final Budget

Porter County Budget Schedule

From Porter County Government site:

2011 Budget Hearing Schedule

The Public Hearing and First Reading for the proposed 2011 Porter County Budget will be held on Monday, September 13, 2010 at 5:30 p.m. in the County Administration Center, 155 Indiana – Suite 205, Valparaiso, Indiana.

Second Reading
Thursday, September 16, 2010
5:30 p.m. – Commissioners’ Chambers

Health 05.95
Health Bioterrorism 238
Health Maintenance 14.95
Health Donations 16.95
Clerk 01.01
Clerk Perpetuation 199
Clerk IV-D 181
Voter Registration 01.22
Election Board 01.21
Prosecutor 01.08
Prosecutor IV-D 01.35
Prosecutor IV-D 182
Prosecutor Deferral 12.08
Prosecutor Drug Money 234
Prosecutor Pre-trial 38.08
Prosecutor 140 Grant
Prosecutor 153 Grant
Prosecutor Check Fund 281
Prosecutor 340 Fund
Prosecutor 353 Grant
Sheriff 01.05
Jail 01.32
Sheriff’s Garage 01.42
Sheriff Civil Fee Fund 311.05
Sheriff 348.05
County Corrections 07.05
Continuous Education 10.05
Firearms 75.05
Extradition Fund 85.05
VIN Inspection 95.05
Accidents 97.05
Charitable Donations 152.05
Public Safety/Data Tech 161.32
Video Tape Reproduction 171.05
Photo Fund 187
Booking Fees 216.32
Federal/Doc Prisoners 217.32
Sheriff’s Pension Fund 282.05
Sex Offender Fee 333.05

Second Reading
Monday, September 20, 2010
5:30 p.m. – Commissioners’ Chambers

Recorder 01.04
Recorder Perpetuation 19.04
Recorder Redaction 297.04
Coroner 01.07
Veterans Services 01.27
Weights & Measures 01.28
Soil & Water 01.34
Animal Shelter 01.45
Animal Shelter 334
Treasurer 01.03
Extension Office 01.23
EMA 01.47
Environmental 01.33
Hazardous Substance 94.33
LEPC 18.33
CRV 93
Parks 01.85
Parks Operating 127.85
Assessor 01.09
Assessor Reassessment 08.09
Portage Assessor 01.11
Portage Reassessment
Jail Bond 211.02
Lease Rent 23.02
Juvenile Housing Debt Bond 294.02
Bail-Out Loan 219.02
Court House Bond 22.02
Auditor 01.02
Auditor GIS/Mapping 33.02
Council 01.25

Second Reading
Thursday, September 23, 2010
5:30 p.m. – Commissioners’ Chambers

Highway Admin.
Highway General
Highway Maintenance
Highway LRS
Highway Cum-Bridge
Highway Major Moves
Surveyor 01.06
Drainage Board 01.26
Planning Commission 239.24
Memorial Opera House 158.44
Expo Center 146.66
Airport Cum-Building
ITS 01.50
Enhanced Access 186
Commissioners 01.30
CCD Fund 132.30
Cable Television Franchise Fund 143.30
Emergency Medical Services 196.30
Commissioners 233
Parking Garage Fund 109.30
Commissioners CEDIT Plans

Second Reading
Thursday, October 7, 2010
5:30 p.m. – Commissioners’ Chambers

Public Defender 01.84
Circuit Court 01.81
Juvenile Detention 01.80
Juvenile Detention Codes 248
Juvenile Probation 01.79
Juvenile Probation User Fees 47
Juvenile Probation 230
Circuit Court Grant 184
Juvenile Probation Grant 283
Circuit Court JDAI Grant 112
Circuit Court Grant 204
Circuit Court Grant 231
Circuit Court Grant 168
Circuit Court Grant 236
Circuit Court Drug Court 338
General Courts 01.78
Superior Court #1 01.82
Superior Court #2 01.83
Superior Court #3 01.38
Superior Court #4 01.37
Superior Court #6 01.39
Antabuse 27-134
Adult Probation 01.43
Adult Probation User Fees 48.43
Porter County Services 01.90
Porter-Starke 01.88
Family & Youth Bureau 01.89
Opportunity Enterprises 01.87

Final Reading
Monday, October 18, 2010
5:30 p.m. – Commissioners’ Chambers

Adoption of 2011 Porter County Budget and 2011 Employee Salary Ordinance

Longevity Policy Discussion

Public Review of the proposed 2011 Municipal Budgets for Porter County will be held on Monday, October 4, 2010 at 5:30 p.m. in the County Administration Center, 155 Indiana Avenue – Suite 205, Valparaiso, Indiana.

Boone Township Trustee
Center Township Trustee
Jackson Township Trustee
Liberty Township Trustee
Morgan Township Trustee
Pine Township Trustee
Pleasant Township Trustee
Portage Township Trustee
Porter Township Trustee
Union Township Trustee
Washington Township Trustee
Westchester Township Trustee
Beverly Shores Civil Town
Burns Harbor Civil Town
Chesterton Civil Town
Dune Acres Civil Town
Hebron Civil Town
Kouts Civil Town
Ogden Dunes Civil Town
Pines Civil Town
Porter Civil Town
Portage Civil City
Valparaiso Civil City
Porter County Public Library
Westchester Public Library
West Porter Twp. Fire Protection District
Damon Run Conservancy District
Indian Boundary Conservancy District
Nature Works Conservancy District
Twin Creeks Conservancy District
White Oaks Conservancy District
Valparaiso Area Lakes Conservancy District
Recycling & Waste District
Burns Harbor Redevelopment Commission
Chesterton Redevelopment Commission
Portage Redevelopment Commission
Porter Redevelopment Commission
Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Town of Cumberland Indiana Study

Indianapolis Star

The town of Cumberland is pursuing a plan to identify areas for redevelopment and tax increment financing districts.

The town’s redevelopment commission has hired Short, Elliott, Hendrickson of Indiana and Cender and Co. to complete a redevelopment area plan for $42,000, said Christine Owens, director of planning and development.

The consultants will explore areas along the Historic National Road from German Church Road in Marion County to Mount Comfort Road in Hancock County that could be redeveloped, according to a news release from Owens.

The group will make suggestions as to what upgrades could be done, how they could be funded and what sort of timeline could be followed, the release said.

The plan also is necessary to create tax increment financing districts, where business taxes can be siphoned to pay for projects and improvements.

Consultants were in town late last month to explore the community and interview stakeholders in the redevelopment effort.

The redevelopment commission expects to get a draft of the plan from Short, Elliott, Hendrickson in July.

Various boards will then study the plan and vote on whether to approve the final draft by August or September.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Association of Indiana Counties

Our team is privileged to work with counties and county officials in Indiana, and we thought we'd use this post to thank them for the hard work of managing our 92 counties:

Association of Indiana Counties

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Karl Cender to join Valparaiso School Board

Our President and Owner here at Cender and Company was picked this week to join the Valparaiso Community School School Board by the City of Valparaiso City Council. Article and details from the Northwest Indiana Times -

VALPARAISO | Fiscal considerations swung the City Council's appointment to the School Board on Thursday in favor of a financial consultant.

The council appointed Karl Cender, a consultant, certified public accountant and owner of Cender & Co. in Merrillville.

In their deliberations, council members spoke highly of runner-up Amy Cory, a nursing professor at Valparaiso University, for her enthusiasm and attendance at board meetings, but they chose Cender for his financial expertise.

With further state cuts to public education expected in the next budget round, difficult financial decisions will have to be made on the local level, council member Kelly Ward said.

Member Bob Taylor wondered where the money would come from and said he didn't want to see a tax increase on seniors.

Member Art Elwood said, "The bottom line, sad to say, is money."

The finalists, who included Debra Koeppen, Scott Mundell and Robert Thompson, were "an outstanding slate of candidates," Ward said.

The questions in Thursday's second round of interviews were submitted by the public, with council members asking follow-ups.

Asked which programs, academic areas and foreign languages he would favor cutting if the necessity arose, Cender said enrollment and budgeting would need to be studied first, but he stressed the priority of academic programs.

In response to a wide-ranging question about the environmental impact of the schools, Cender said a decision whether to build new elementary schools or renovate existing ones should include weighing the costs and benefits of greener alternatives.

Cender also suggested that students could be challenged to brainstorm ideas on reducing the schools' carbon footprint.

That idea, council member Jan Dick said, helped sway him in favor of Cender.

Cender also said he agreed with the board's recent policy to admit up to 10 nonresident students annually to Valparaiso High School from the city's two parochial schools, which conclude at eighth grade.

Cender will replace board member Mary Idstein, who moved out of the city and could not apply for appointment.

Cender, 50, and his wife have a daughter who graduated fro

m Valparaiso High School in 2009 and a son who will be a sophomore at the school next year.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Property Tax Caps Amendment Debate - Indiana

The Times features an opinion piece on the upcoming referendum to make the 1/2/3 property tax caps permanent in the Indiana Constitution:

Indiana voters are expected to vote resoundingly in November to approve a constitutional amendment requiring property taxes to be capped at their current levels. That could prove to be a big mistake.

The caps themselves are not the issue. It's the inability to respond to fiscal emergencies that could be troublesome at some point in the future.

Currently, property taxes are capped at 1 percent of the property's value for homeowners, 2 percent for rentals and 3 percent for commercial properties. That provides needed tax relief for a growing number of property owners each year and forces governments to cut expenses each year.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, one of the biggest proponents of the constitutional amendment, wants this fiscal pressure on local governments to force them to consider efficiencies they might otherwise ignore. That's not such a bad thing. There is much to be done to make local governments more efficient.

Many local government officials are concerned about the caps because of the squeeze they're already putting on those governments. Those officials are being forced out of their comfort zones.

Having the tax caps in place makes Indiana more attractive for economic development, which could boost a community's tax base and in turn drive down its tax rate.

But what if a fiscal disaster occurs that requires a short-term funding infusion? If that happens with a constitutional amendment locking the property tax caps in place, where will the money come from to provide essential -- truly essential -- government services in that emergency?

Already, communities across Indiana are asking for fiscal home rule, the ability to generate revenue through means not already approved by the state.

A local sales tax on gasoline and fireworks, for example, could raise money along the state line that would primarily be paid by Illinois residents who cross the state line to buy cheaper products in Indiana.

Open the door to those taxes, however, and who knows how high they would go?

Putting the property tax caps in the Indiana Constitution could prove to be a huge mistake somewhere down the line. The caps are already in place by state law. Leave it at that and allow an escape clause in case the worst, whatever that might be, happens someday. Otherwise, don't be surprised if a number of other taxes pop up and defeat the purpose of the tax caps anyway.

Your opinion, please

Should Indiana voters approve a constitutional amendment locking in the current property tax caps?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Indiana municipal consolidations

Not many municipal entities so far have taken advantage of the Indiana state law that allows, and the Governor has encouraged even, consolidations. Umbaugh and Associates has written a two part article on the topic, click the link for the full article:

Is It Time To Consider Consolidation?

Part 2 in a series.

In our last issue we explored the advantages of consolidating with another governmental unit. Those advantages include improved management of growth and development, identifying and defending borders, developing a broader tax base, resource sharing and efficiency, enhanced ability to provide services, better coordination among taxing units and following the recommendations for better local government from the Kernan-Shepard report.

If you've reviewed the potential issues outlined in the first article and decided to pursue consolidation, the next step is to convene an ad hoc committee to discuss the merits of consolidation. The committee's findings should be presented to each governing body as you ask for approval to continue.

Next, create reorganization committees to break down key components for further discussion (i.e.-finance, public safety, ordinances, etc.).

Although many municipal finance and organizational consulting firms are contemplating the possibilities with their clients right now, we too would be pleased to meet on the subject. This is new territory for everyone, with the consolidation in Zionsville Indiana being the only real case study ... let's meet soon and work through the options.

Cender and Company


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Indiana DLGF memo on exempt debt

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance sent out the following memo and charts to help local government organizations better understand the impact of the circuit breaker tax credits on exempt debt and the imperative directions concerning debt payments:


Related diagrams of explanation: Unit Payment of Debt Service and Distribution Method with and without exempt rates.

If you have further questions on the application of these memos to your municipal budget, levy, or tax rate please call our office at 219-736-1800 today ... ask for Dan Botich or Karl Cender.

If you want to subscribe to our free monthly newsletter please send an email to Steve Dalton and we'll add you to our opt-in list.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Indiana has exemplary record this year on tax bills

Property tax bills on-time in 85 counties, saving taxpayers millions in dollars
from (Department of Local Government Finance - Indiana)

INDIANAPOLIS (April 14, 2010) – Hoosier property taxpayers are seeing something in their mail they are not accustomed to seeing in the spring – their property tax bills. The Department of Local Government Finance today announced that for the first time since 2002, property tax bills in at least 85 counties will be mailed in spring, resulting in the normal May 10 due date.

Only two counties – Kosciusko and Owen –billed on-time in 2009, while no county achieved on-time billing in 2008. On-time tax bills mean lower costs for the State’s 2,691 cities, towns, townships, schools, libraries, and other special districts. “It took too long to get here, but a great cooperative effort has brought this process current,” Governor Mitch Daniels said. “The result is our cities, schools and libraries will get their funding in a timely manner and will no longer have to borrow while they wait on a check.”

(To facilitate on-time billing, the Department conducted at least part of the assessment work in three counties – Lake, LaPorte, and Porter.)

Late tax bills have been costly to local units of government, which rely on property tax revenue to operate. While a total dollar figure paid in interest due to late tax bills is not known, the Indiana Bond Bank stated that borrowing by local government units reached nearly $950 million in calendar year 2008, $518 million in 2009, and $133,000 so far for 2010. According to the Indiana Department of Education, schools borrowed over $42 million in calendar year 2008 and over $13 million in the first half of 2009.

“With more local government units returning to normal billing and collection cycles, the need by these entities to borrow will more than likely continue to return to normal levels as we have witnessed over the past year and a half,” State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who serves has Chairman of the Indiana Bond Bank, said.

Delays in the past several years have been attributed to the change to the market value-based property tax system and the onset of “trending” – the updating of property values annually to reflect the property’s market value in use. Additionally, a statewide review of assessments resulted in several counties having to re-do work, and many counties experienced software changes to upgrade technology.

Now that the normal billing cycle has been restored, state and local officials are working to maintain the predictability for next year, setting a goal of on-time billing in 91 of the state’s 92 counties, a feat that has not happened since 2000.

Contact: Mary Jane Michalak, 317.232.3785, mmichalak@dlgf.in.gov or
Amanda Stanley, 317.233.9218, astanley@dlgf.in.gov

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

State revenues increase

From Department of Local Government Finance this morning:

One other interesting note, in case you haven't heard the news yet - State revenues came in above the forecasts for the first time in 17 months. In March, the state collected $908 million in taxes, up $7 million from March 2009. The collections were $2 million above the budget forecast and $48 million above the revised forecast, issued in December 2009. According to the Indianapolis Star, State Budget Director Chris Ruhl said, "I think a positive first step is getting back on target and projections." However, he has cautioned that it is too early to say the worst is over, so we must continue be prudent in our spending. According to the Star, " 'One month of reversing a trend is not enough to say we're going to start the spending spree again in Indiana,' Ruhl said. 'The goal remains the same: Spend within our means, protect Hoosier taxpayers, and maintain the size and scope of government within an affordable means.' "

Sunday, April 4, 2010

On-time property tax bills in Porter County

Along with on-time property tax bills this year is -

Porter County’s new and enhanced website at www.porterco.org/pati or go to www.porterco.org and click on Tax Information. Read the General Information and learn about the site and the icons in the tutorial it will help a lot. Then click on Go To Public Access Tax Information Site You will be searching the county for any desired tax information or finding and paying your tax bill in no time at all.

You can find a record by Owner Name, Parcel Number, Address or Duplicate Number. Once you find your record you can view the Property Summary, Bill Details, Tax Summary for the last two years, Other Charges, Deductions and Receipts. The icons to the top right let you zoom in or out, pan, extend your search right or left, full extend, query properties around you and clear the map. Icons at the bottom allow you to pay by credit card, E-Check from you checking or savings account, print your bill, 3 year comparison or both and for the generally curious or commercial user the property record card.

This took place because of some real ingenuity, years of networking experience and the collaborative mindset, of Porter County’s Director of Information Technology, Sharon Lippens, who played the pivotal role in making this website happen and getting it at an affordable price for the citizens of porter County.

The program was acquired through the generosity of Allen County’s IT Department. The Programming and Consulting Firm of, ATOS, which performed the same work for Allen County, did the interfacing.

I know this website will cause Pat Pullara Chief Operating Officer/Government Affairs of GNIAR to jump for joy when I email her to broadcast the message to her membership that our website has arrived. GNIAR is instrumental in providing the county with valuable assessing information necessary for the County Assessor to do his work. This Website will go public Monday, April 5. It is a FREE service to all users with out limitations says, Lippens.

It is the culmination of effort from the Auditor Jim Kopp’s GIS Dept., Assessors John Scott’s Records Dept. and the Treasurer’s Office that brought the creation, integration, and payment services of the website to Porter County in a remarkable 30 working days. In the beginning some thought it couldn’t be done but, Porter County has an on-time tax bill and an on-time website.

"The project might be the Treasurer’s website but it’s the peoples tool where taxpayers, realtors, escrow companies, bankers, and title companies can access county tax records from anywhere in the world. It is a FREE service to all users with out limitations." Mike Bucko, Porter County Treasurer.

On behalf of all the taxing departments, “ We can’t promise to make paying taxes enjoyable but we can promise to work hard and together to make it easier”

Mike Bucko
Porter County Treasurer

Friday, March 12, 2010

DLGF Rushenberg resigns

>When I was appointed by Governor Daniels 15 months ago, he gave me one mission - return counties to on-time property tax billing. I was also directed to restore relationships and re-build the credibility of the Department with local government officials. As I write to you today, I can say with great pride that our mission has been accomplished.

Today, we will sign Clark County's budget order -- #83. I have told you weekly of our progress in my weekly email, so it will come as no surprise to you that we are 6 months ahead of where we were last year! The 83rd budget order was issued on September 9, 2009. We will issue #87 by the end of March! This is quite a feat - one that was accomplished through the hard work and dedication of everyone involved in the process - local and state officials. Kudos to each of you! Taxpayers in the vast majority of counties will receive on-time tax bills for the first time in several years. Mission accomplished. I wanted to fly a fighter jet onto the deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to show my appreciation to each of you for accomplishing our mission, but I don't know how to fly -- I was a JAG in the Air Force, not a pilot.

In addition to restoring the property assessment-to-tax billing cycle, the Department has built a reputation of excellence throughout the State - both in the accomplishments we have made and the customer service we provide. We have truly lived up to the Core Values I set for the Department when I was appointed in December 2008: Taxpayer First. Respect for Local Control. Excellence in All We Do.

Knowing this, I have decided it is time for me to move on, and I have resigned to seek other opportunities in the private sector. My resignation is effective today.

I have truly appreciated being a part of this Team, and wish each of you all the best. I will miss the friends I have made and will never forget what we accomplished together as a Team - local and state together. Mission accomplished.

To paraphrase Bing Crosby's character, Father O'Malley, from the film "The Bells of St. Mary's", if any of you ever need anything, just dial "O" for O'Malley.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Update on Indiana Municipal Finance

Once in a while it is good to spend a few minutes looking at the big picture in Indiana municipal finance, some links we found that are worth reading and pondering:

  • Hammond Indiana - Calumet Avenue Corridor Study - this is a survey for the public to give their input as the City of Hammond completes the plan for redeveloping the Calumet Corridor. (Via City of Hammond website). In the interest of full disclosure, Cender and Company is providing this analysis to the City, and you can see the background information and maps for this project at our website: Indiana Municipal Finance and Bond Consultants.
  • The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF) issues weekly updates on the status of property tax bills in all 92 counties. We keep an eye on these updates as well as working to assist many of the northern Indiana counties with compliance.
  • Just across the border in Michigan's lake country, Redamak's opens today! (via #nwindiana twitter search)
  • The Illiana Expressway gained steam once again, at least the Lake County portion, when lawmakers on both sides of the aisle worked to pass legislation. (via Times)
What stories are you watching today, in economic development and municipal finance, Indiana is ahead of many states ... but unemployment is hurting everyone.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Update from Indiana DLGF

We get these emails weekly, but thought some of our readers may want to stay updated as well:

Today's Topics:

1. Re: January 8, 2010: Indiana Counties 2010 On-Time Billing
Update (Rushenberg, Tim)


Here is your Indiana Counties 2010 On-Time Billing Update

At least 70 counties are still on schedule for on-time property tax billing
in 2010. On-time property tax billing means a first installment property tax bill due date of May 10, 2010 - a feat accomplished by only two (2) counties last year (Kosciusko and Owen), and zero (0) counties in 2008 and 2007

2009-pay-2010 Assessment-Sales Ratio Studies

? DLGF has approved 88 of 89 assessment-sales ratio studies submitted by county assessors (including the DLGF-conducted assessments in LaPorte and Porter). We approved ratio studies for Brown and Floyd last week. We are still reviewing the ratio study from Lake. Last year on this date, DLGF had approved 45 of 71 ratio studies. The 88th ratio study for 2008-pay-2009 was not approved by DLGF until July 8, 2009 - a nearly 6 month improvement over last year.

? Posey, Clinton, and Fulton are the 3 remaining counties that have
not yet submitted a 2009-pay-2010 ratio study to the DLGF for review and a

2010 Certified Net Assessed Values / 1782 Notices / Public Budget Hearings
/ Budget Orders

? Budget orders have been issued in a total of 32 counties. 6 budget orders were issued last week in Jay, Greene, Perry, Grant, Bartholomew,and Randolph.

? Budget hearings on budgets, tax rates, and property tax levies have been set for 5 counties this week: Parke, Hamilton, Dearborn, Dubois, and Orange. Last week, a budget hearing was held in Starke.

? Notices of DLGF's preliminary budgets, tax rates, and property tax levies ("1782 notices") have been sent to taxing units and are currently outstanding in 11 counties. Since last Monday's update, taxing units in 4 counties were sent 1782 notices: Benton, Decatur, Ripley, and Clay.

? Budgets, rates, and levies are currently being worked for taxing
units in 15 counties.

? 0 counties certified 2010 net assessed values last week. As a reminder, budgets will be worked in the order in which NAVs are received, so if you are a county that has not yet certified 2010 net assessed values to the Department, continue to work hard, stay focused with on-time tax billing as your primary goal, and certify net assessed values to the Department as soon as possible. There is still time to achieve on-time property tax billing in 2010; however, that window of opportunity is closing quickly so move fast!

? DLGF has received 2010 net assessed values from county auditors in 72 counties. This is a nearly 5 month improvement over last year (72nd county auditor certified 2009 net assessed values on June 3, 2009). Last year on this date, DLGF had received net assessed values from only one (1) county auditor (Jefferson on January 8, 2009).

To find out the status of a particular county for 2010 on-time property tax
billing, please see the DLGF's status map at http://www.in.gov/dlgf/files/2010_Cert_Status.pdf. This map details each step in the assessment to tax billing process, as well as the statutory deadlines. If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions, please feel free to contact me at (317) 233-6770 or trushenberg@dlgf.in.gov.

Very Respectfully,

Timothy J. Rushenberg

DLGF of Local Government Finance

Taxpayer First. Local Control. Excellence.

What should a town or city have online?

From the Post-Tribune yesterday, how much should your local town or city in Indiana put online? How user friendly should that information be? Multi-media?

Towns improving Web presence

Want to become an Internet star? Make a video of your cat playing the piano and upload it to YouTube?

How about tell everyone the innermost secrets of your life? Create a Facebook account?

The Internet has become everyone's domain, easy to use and easy to look like you're a pro.

But then there are the holdouts, Web sites run by people who just don't seem to realize how easy it is join the 21st century.

Those would be the government Web sites.

Known for their listless, bureaucratic design, government Web sites have developed a reputation for being the redheaded stepchildren of the Internet.

Amazon.com they are not.

Northwest Indiana government Web sites often follow the same pattern. Some are filled with dated information, while others lack contact information, among common problems.

But there's hope. Several communities have recently started to make changes, and as one designer says, the basics are there.

"I think they all have a good start," said A.J. Bytnar, a graduate student at Indiana University Northwest and planner for Hobart.

Bytnar and classmates last semester took a class with Karen Evans in public management, looking at government Web sites.

Bytnar said most area government Web sites -- in both Porter and Lake counties -- do what they set out to do. Porter County Web sites lead the way, he said, with slightly better aesthetics. Bytnar noted many Lake County Web sites look like they use similar templates.

But looks aren't everything. Bytnar gave high marks to Lake County's and Valparaiso's Web sites for the information they provide, even if they are a little boring visually.

Evans agreed, saying a government Web site's priority should be getting information to residents. If a site is only pretty, it still fails, she said.

"It's like sewing lace on burlap if the site itself isn't good," she said.

The more residents can make use of the Web sites, the better they are, Evans said. She isn't familiar with most of the Northwest Indiana government sites, but from what she hears from students, most are too complex to use, yet lack sophistication.

Does any community do better? She points to the Blacksburg, W.Va., site, which looks a bit spartan but lets residents do just about anything, from watching live videos of city council meetings to paying their taxes online.

Northwest Indiana Web sites can improve by adding one simple thing -- online payments, Bytnar said. Some here, such as Valparaiso, offer utility bill payments online, but most lack this service, he said.

Bytnar pointed out that it took just a few minutes for his rugby club to set up a PayPal account to sell their gear.

"If a small club of 30 guys can do that," then so can cities with thousands of people, Bytnar said.

Indianapolis based E-Gov Strategies recently redesigned the Portage Web site, which will introduce online payments soon, Clerk-Treasurer Donna Pappas said. Officials are still collecting data on the fees, but residents will mostly likely be able to pay fees and buy permits normally handled by Pappas' office, the parks department and the marina, she said.

Gary officials told the Distressed Unit Appeals Board on Wednesday they too are looking at allowing businesses to pay fees online.

Web sites can even help cash-strapped communities save money. April Strano, a Web consultant for E-Gov Strategies, said the town of Fishers allows people to file police reports online, which saved $4,500 a year, enough to pay for the Web site.

"When money gets tight, everyone needs to think that way," she said.

How much should it cost?

The question is, does upgrading a municipal Web site make financial sense? Strano said there's no average price for Web sites because so much can vary. And then there's the decision on whether to do it in-house or to contract out the site development and management.

Finding out how much local governments spend on their site can be hard, too, because the costs often get listed under larger projects.

In Crown Point, for instance, the city spends about $1,000 a year to host the Web site on server space, but updating and maintaining it falls to Adam Graper, the city's director of media relations and IT. Graper said work on the Web site probably takes 15 percent of his time on the job.

Highland, however, contracts with a company to do its IT work, and the Web site portion of that costs about $4,500 a year, including hosting for the city's internal e-mail.

Portage spent $10,539 on its Web site in 2009, Pappas said, although that includes costs for the redesign. Annual maintenance costs about $4,600, she said.

No matter what it costs, the site's useless if users can't find any the services they need. Strano said organization is a key factor for any Web site, and officials need to make it easy for people to find what they're looking for.

She suggested including a search box. "It sounds like a funny thing but people don't always think about that," she said.

Bytnar said of the local Web sites he looked at, the best ones had specific pages for departments that said what each department does and gave contact information.

That's one knock against Gary's Web site, Bytnar said. More than half the departments shown on the site have information on how to call employees or even a list of what they do.

That doesn't help residents, which he considers the most important thing a government Web site can do.

"I don't think cities will ever be as effective as Yahoo," Bytnar said. "I think what a lot of city Web sites should do is inform."