April 15 is the dreaded 'tax day' across the country. May 10 and Nov 10 are becoming nearly as dreadful for many Hoosiers, especially those on fixed incomes who counted on land being their safety net for income in their 'golden' years.
"Our tax bill is so high even the assessor feels sorry for us," one retired farmwife laments. She and her husband pay roughly $25 per acre, including their farmhouse, on their property. Yet they only take in around $80 per acre in cash rent. By the time they pay other state and federal taxes, even with social security income, there's not much left over for living.
"We always considered our land our 401 K," she says. "We could sell it off for lots like some do, but we don't want to do that. We thought the income off of it would surely support us in retirement, along with our social security. But we weren't counting on taxes being so high."
Is her case unusual? Perhaps others are reaping higher rents while paying the same or less property tax, but we're not convinced her numbers are that far out of line. Individual situations vary depending upon your county and school district.
What would you do if you received her tax bill in the mail? Your first step might be to check for any errors. Ask your assessor or local county officials to explain it to you if something seems out of whack. Perhaps square footage on your house is recorded as higher than reality, or maybe someone forgot to remove the rental house you sold two years ago from your bill.
Suppose there are no obvious errors. Then what? How about, "Go tell it on the mountainâ€¦"
"There comes a point when you feel like you've just got to let someone know," the retired farmwife told us. "We're not sure how much more of this we can take."
She's not alone. We're sure many of you feel the same way. But who you tell is another matter.
If you want to make sure you're getting credit for all the deductions you're entitled to, tell it to officials in the county courthouse. Our May issue talked about a property tax break through a new Investment Deduction for purchases made during the previous year that 'retain or create employment.' Indiana Farm Bureau's Katrina Hall is attempting to get the word out on that deduction, which continues through March 1, 2009. If you haven't heard about it, a visit with your local Farm Bureau representative might be in order.
But all of these suggestions are quick fixes. The folks who need to hear our retired farmwife caller, and each of you, are state legislators, both the ones serving now and candidates.
They need to hear loud and clear, once and for all, that band-aid fixes to a ballooning, out-of-control problem are no longer acceptable. Someone with a $2,300 annual property tax bill, who sees that over $1,600 goes directly to local schools, needs to step up and say, in unmistakable terms, 'No more!'
The ballot box is a place to start. But anyone seriously fed up with property taxes will need to keep beating the drum long after this year's elections are over.
Squeaky wheels get the grease. Many of you thought you were 'squeaking' loudly before. Apparently not loudly enough - not so loud that legislators realized they could no longer put off facing the tough decisions generations of Hoosier politicians have ignored, and fix a system that worked in the 1800's, but not in the 21st century.
To our retired farmwife friend, we say keep calling. Only include each and every elected official on your speed-dial calling list.