County Assessor Tom Copeland

Franklin County Assessor Tom Copeland said his office is striving to make ends meet as it continues to deal with a state funding cut.

He would like his office to receive more state funding to help with property assessments.

He noted that the state used to reimburse the county $6 for each parcel his office assessed.

Now the county is only reimbursed $3 a parcel — half of what it used to get.

This has created a revenue loss of more than $200,000.

The state reimbursement was cut to $4 in 2009 and then to $3 in 2010, he said.

As a result of the assessment reimbursement cuts, Copeland said he was forced to lay off six employees shortly after he was elected in 2009.

“We didn’t have (enough) money to operate on,” Copeland said.

The state reimbursement is a key revenue source for the assessor’s office, he said, adding that he does not get funding from the county’s general revenue.

Last year, the reimbursement dropped even further to $2.88 for a short time but has since come back up to $3.

In addition to the state reimbursement, the assessor’s office also gets a percentage of revenue from the taxing entities.

It cost $12 to $15 to assess a parcel, Copeland said.

“So I’m in the hole all of the time,” he said.

The state reimbursement brought in about $215,000 for the county assessor’s office last year, and that was based on 71,740 parcels. The reimbursement from the taxing entities was budgeted to bring in $655,000 last year.

The 2014 county budget shows that the assessment fund’s revenue will have a shortfall of $137,200. That will be covered by a $161,575 fund balance carried forward from the previous year, the budget shows.

If the economy improves and more property is sold, the assessor’s office is going to have trouble keeping up with the assessment workload without additional employees, Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer said.

“That’s why they’re hoping that we can get some additional funding from the state,” Griesheimer said.

State law mandates that the county assess property within 95 percent of its true value, he said.

“The problem is there’s a cost to that,” Griesheimer added.

Under the Hancock Amendment, the state should provide the funding to cover the mandate for assessing the property, Griesheimer asserted.

Copeland noted that the reimbursement from the state has dropped by half but that his office is still required to do the same amount and style of work.

It’s up to the state Legislature whether to increase it, he said. Restoring the funding would allow his office to put a “full crew” back to work, Copeland added.

The reimbursement helps cover all of the costs that go into assessing properties, Copeland said. Those costs include staff, fuel to drive to the properties, mapping, paper, phones and copying machines.

He noted that his office could benefit from two more field appraisers and one more data processor to take the pressure off the current employees.

Copeland said the current employees are working extremely hard to get the job done.

“We are running by the skin of our teeth,” Copeland said.

The personal property division in his office has six employees, and the real estate division has 10 workers.

To make ends meet, he said his office has implemented cost-saving measures such as monitoring fuel and trips.

“We drive a lot of miles every year,” Copeland said.

Also, he has cut down on mailings, saving about $16,000 a year by only sending out property impact notices to those who have had an increase in value not to those who have seen a decline. And his staff is doing more in-house work such as licking envelopes and sticking stamps, he added.

It is all about working smarter with the resources he has available, Copeland said.