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When no means yes

Did you build or remodel a home or business in Marion County in the past 10 years, but didn’t apply for a property tax rebate through the county’s neighborhood revitalization program? Good news — it might not be too late to cash in.

You thought you missed your chance because of this program rule from page 4 of the county’s application packet, reproduced exactly as it appears: “An application for a rebate must be filed within 60 days of the issuance of a building permit. Applications for rehabilitations or additions must be received and approved prior to the commencement of the construction. NO EXCEPTIONS.” Those underlined capitals scared you away, didn’t they? Silly you.

Just kidding, county commissioners said Friday. Proving there’s always an exception, in this case a whopper, they casually ignored the above rule and approved a residential project application filed more than 300 days after the building permit was issued, and after construction was done, not before it started.

There was no compelling argument presented for granting the exception, not even a “dog ate the application” attempt. Evidently, commissioners just felt benevolent that day, giving up hundreds of property tax dollars over the next five years with nary an objection.

It’s not the first time this year commissioners were in a “feel good” space. In January, they agreed to reimburse an individual $2,000 for gravel that he put down on a county road without prior approval. Their enthusiasm cooled the next week when another individual proposed doing the same, saying they needed to re-evaluate and develop terms and conditions before giving that benefit to others.

County employees who’ve been denied lunch money because they didn’t have the proper itemized receipts for their reimbursement requests might be scratching their heads over this one. Rules are rules, they’ve been told, and those $6 Big Mac meals are on them, not the county, if they don’t follow them to the letter.

Property tax rebates are supposed to be incentives for revitalization, financial carrots dangled to entice people to undertake projects they might not otherwise do. They’ve proved to be effective in many communities.

The commission’s action in this case is a reward, not an incentive. It’s hard to know without talking to the owner, but it’s difficult to see the rebate as an incentive — the project’s done. Construction plowed ahead to completion without a property tax rebate deal in place, without the county assessor’s required pre-approval, and without even an application.

Instead of the program’s “we’ll help you get this done” intent, awarding the rebate outside the rules and after the fact gives the appearance of “thanks for building, here’s your treat.” Taxpayers find it much easier to support the former, rather than the latter.

The revitalization plan itself requires commissioners to “consider repeal, modifications, or other changes to the plan,” and now is as good a time as any.

I’m not proposing changes one way or another, and I like revitalization plans in principle. However, in lean times such as these, taxpayers deserve reasonable assurances that a program serving 390 properties that takes thousands of dollars of property taxes away from county coffers is doing what it was intended to do, and is worth the expense for expected future returns.

In the meantime, if you have an “I forgot,” “I didn’t get around to it,” and maybe even a “the dog ate my application,” as reasons why your project isn’t part of the county revitalization program, maybe there’s still time to fill out the paperwork. And while you’re at it, why not toss in a few meal receipts? You never know what you might get back.

— david colburn

Last modified March 5, 2015

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