What could be more important than issues that might affect your property rights, your wallet through property taxes and your ability to stay away from city government if you don't want to be part of it? All three could be debated in the 2014 Indiana General Assembly.
Indiana Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm group, will have registered lobbyists watching and working on your behalf. However, Katrina Hall, head of legislative services for Indiana Farm Bureau, says it's important that you watch too. Let your opinions be heard.
One. Trespass changes – Legislation that would have limited outside parties from bringing cameras onto farms or seeking employment under false pretenses bogged down in 2013. The issue will be back.
"We aren't asking for a bill, but we'll be ready if necessary," says Katrina Hall. "We would like to frame the debate around updating Indiana's trespass laws. Currently, it isn't a felony to go onto someone's property unless 'no trespassing' signs are posted."
Despite Farm Bureau's efforts, expect talk about the "no cameras" law. The urban press is already phrasing questions about freedom to farm in terms of whether someone can photograph your operation.
Environmental-leaning groups, including the Hoosier Environmental Council, have been testing the waters all fall by feeding the media reports and making statements against large animal confinement units. It could be a sign of a controversial debate to come on this topic.
Two. Property tax adjustments – While no legislation to change the formula for how property taxes are calculated for bare farmland are expected, the Department of Local Government and Finance delivered its report in November about possible changes in soil productivity indexes. DLGF has tried for two years to revamp indexes. The net result would likely be higher property taxes on most farmland.
Early on, Hall thought there would be few changes about productivity after DLGF consulted with Purdue University. She believed it would more tweaking than revising.
"That didn't turn out to be the case," she says. "The report recommends changes for a vast number of soils, and in most cases, ratings would go up, likely leading to higher values. Purdue asked for time to reevaluate it. They probably won't get as much time as they want."
Hall says that it now appears that out of 600 soils identified in Indiana, productivity indexes could go up for about 300. Some would stay the same, and productivity ratings would go down for only a handful of soils.
The bottom line is that the issue is on the table again. Raising soil productivity indexes could amount to more than $50 million in extra property taxes for farmers. Asking the legislature for another delay before changes are made could be an option if differences can't be resolved, Hall says.
Three. Annexation issue – The legislature dealt with cities and unincorporated areas merging last session. This time the focus will be on annexation, notes Bob Cherry, a landowner, Indiana Farm Bureau legislative specialist and Representative, R-Greenfield.
"We're one of the few states that still allow forced annexation, where the town or city can annex land without any say from people being affected," he says. "We don't think that's right. We're looking at laws in Wisconsin, Kentucky and other states which more fairly address annexation. Property owners about to be annexed should have a say."
What's driving interest in annexation is an attempt to broaden tax bases and pull in more revenue into communities, Cherry says. Some local government entities are feeling the pressure from loss of property tax revenue because circuit breaker caps have kicked in.
A town in Cherry's own county, Fortville, is seeking to annex 7,000 acres. Other communities around the state are planning annexation moves. Cherry believes now is the time to change the laws so people being affected have more input.
The problem is that the cities collect property tax revenue and in return, say they will provide services. However, in most cases, the services aren't provided. In many instances when land is annexed, there isn't even sewer or water service available yet in the area that is annexed.