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 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

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. 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."