Don Villwock, Edwardsport, will lead Indiana Farm Bureau for another term as the organization's president. Delegates from all over Indiana made that decision quickly at the group's annual conference in Indianapolis recently.
Villwock is completing his second year at the helm of the state's largest farm organization. He followed Harry Pearson, a long-time leader and successful president in his own right. Pearson hails from Blackford County.
During his first term, Villwock made it clear that he wanted to be hands on, visiting as many counties as possible. He also spent several months in a role he didn't expect, as interim head of Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance. The Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. president is also chairman of the board of the insurance company. When the previous president left and before a new one could be found, Villwock ran the company.
He's now back to concentrating on Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., and happy to be in that role, he told us recently. He has made property tax reform one of the major issues of emphasis for Farm Bureau right now.
Villwock was pleased when the special session of the legislature voted for 60% relief for property taxes off the general fund school levy in '02. However, he's just as disappointed now as he was optimistic then. Instead of a reduction, most farmers are seeing a property tax increase after reassessment.
The net tax increase on average farmland in Indiana stands at about 25%, with still nearly a fourth of the counties to report on reassessment. Currently, Pike County is hardest hit. Montgomery County, home of former state senator Morris Mills, has the seventh-highest rate. Before Mills and Indiana Farm Bureau began asking questions, sometimes even in the governor's office, Montgomery County's increase to taxpayers would have been nearly 70%, and ranked first in Indiana for % of increase on bare farmland.
Villwock joked about property taxes during a special conference session held in the Indiana Statehouse, right in the House chamber. Judges and the audience filled seats at tables normally sat in by state legislators. They were there to hear the Discussion Meet Finals hoste by Indiana Farm Bureau.
Before going on with the contest, Villwock noted, "I've been asked to see if we could turn on the voting machines and vote on a property tax relief bill," he quipped. Then after a hearty round of applause, he adds, "I think we all know how that would turn out."
The next day, in more serious tones, Villwock made the case for true relief from property taxes for farmers. He vowed that it would continue to be a major goal of his tenure in office.