When Greg Bowes was elected to serve as the Marion County Assessor in 2006, no one knew what challenges he would face.
As soon as he took office, Bowes saw that the nine township assessors were already six months late in turning in the assessments they were responsible for. When the tax bills were finally sent to taxpayers in June of 2007, many taxpayers saw their tax bills double or triple over the previous year. Angry taxpayers blocked Meridian Street in front of the Governor’s house, rallied at the Statehouse, and held “tea parties” throwing tea bags into the canal.
The Governor responded by ordering Marion County to reassess all properties, and put Bowes in charge of the process. After revising the assessments, values for commercial properties saw substantial increases, which lessened the burden for homeowners. The tax bills, however, were now hopelessly late. The final bill for 2007 was sent to taxpayers in June of 2008.
The burden for taxpayers was just beginning. Mortgage companies miscalculated escrow accounts and many taxpayers were threatened with losing their homes. Bowes, however, was still relying on township assessors to prepare the assessments for the next tax bills.
By this time, the public frustration about property taxes moved the state legislature to pass a law requiring voters to decide whether to consolidate the township assessor responsibilities to one county assessor’s office. In a landslide 2-1 vote, taxpayers decided that all nine Marion County Township Assessor offices should be eliminated.
Bowes had to act quickly. The vote came in November, and by January, he took over. His staff increased from 12 to 130. During the next few months, Bowes systematically interviewed all township assessor employees, and about 80% of them survived the cut, leaving a workforce that represents the diversity of Marion County.
Bowes reorganized the office focusing on functional groups rather than arbitrary lines drawn on a map. Grouping assessors together based on the types of properties let the staff share their expertise and promote consistency. The offices in the City-County Building were renovated and eight separate township assessor offices were reduced to four satellite offices.
By the end of 2009, Bowes had already completed three annual assessments in one calendar year. This April, tax bills were mailed on time for the first time in four years.
Bowes is proud of his accomplishments. He managed this dramatic change in a very short time. The design of the new office is now saving taxpayers $2 million each year in the cost of preparing assessments.
Bowes, however, recognizes there is still much to do.
The delay caused by the reassessment in 2007, and the preparation of three assessments in one calendar year has created a backlog of over 33,000 appeals. While this is fewer than 10% of the 360,000 properties in Marion County, Bowes hopes to whittle away that backlog now that the office is caught up on getting assessments and tax bills out on time.