By Samm Quinn
Legislation that would allow Hoosiers to make monthly payments on their property tax bills took a step toward becoming a law Thursday.
Senate Bill 275, authored by Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, requires counties to offer a formalized payment plan option.
Miller said some of her constituents want help paying their tax bills.
"I wish we didn't have to deal with this legislation," she said, arguing that, given the economy, the bill is worthy of consideration.
Cindy Land, administrative deputy of the Marion County treasurer's office, said the bill is right for Marion County.
"We're at a point where we just need to make more options available to tax payers," Land said.
She said payment plans are good options because it gives Hoosiers more time to pay small installments.
"If you had to pay your cell bill once or twice a year, it would be high," she said.
The bill would mandate that each county offer a monthly payment plan, but some critics say it will be difficult for smaller counties to implement.
Andrew Berger, a lobbyist for the Association of Indiana Counties, said metropolitan counties - such as Allen, Marion and Lake - can afford to make the software and other changes necessary to offer the payment systems. But other counties might not be able to.
"The treasurers do not want this to be a statewide mandate, at least not in this form," he said.
Even Land agreed that bill may not benefit smaller counties in the way it would a larger county.
"Some of these offices only have two people in the treasurer's office," she said.
Under current state law, any tax payer can ask for a payment plan, Berger said, but the treasurer doesn't have to approve it.
Lawmakers stripped a section out of the bill that would have allowed third parties to pay off tax bills for Hoosiers using companies that would essentially offer homeowners a loan.
Mary Doggett, the general council for Propel Financial Services in San Antonio, Texas, said change would help keep property owners in their homes by giving them more control and flexibility when paying their taxes.
Texas has already implemented a similar law, where 15,000 property owners choose the option for paying their taxes, Doggett said.
Property owners would be able to compare interest rates, pick a company and then the third party pays their property tax. After the payment is made, the property owner begins repayment, which typically takes about three years.
Doggett said the option doesn't create a new burden for property owners because they had to make the payment anyway, and they can't ask for more than what they owe.
But Sen. Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, said the amendment isn't a good idea for Indiana.
"This is probably one of the top five worst ideas I've heard in the nine years I've been in the General Assembly," he said.
He said the idea is a great opportunity for businesses, but not for consumers.
Doggett argued that 90 percent of clients are able to stay on top of payments and very few take a second loan.
Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said that proposal needed more work before being voted on, so it was removed from the legislation.
The rest of the bill is headed to the full Senate for consideration.
Samm Quinn is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.