ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) –The Allen County Council Thursday approved a $302 million budget for 2024 that is 11% higher than the 2023 budget and represents a 4% hike in the property tax levy.

However, the tax rate will potentially decrease by 5%, county auditor Nick Jordan said Thursday after the county budget hearing.

An individual’s property tax is driven by the assessed value, so if personal property taxes rise, that probably means a home’s worth is increasing, Jordan said.

“In general, there’s been a rapid increase in residential properties. The tax burden has been shifting to residential from commercial business property, anything that is not residential. Residential properties have skyrocketed, so they’re carrying more of the burden,” Jordan explained.

The council also voted on tax rises for each of the four county fire districts. The tax rises represent considerable jumps in the local tax rate, something to which a number of residents in the Northeast Fire District objected.

Lindsey Hammond from Harlan said the tax for Northeast went from “zero to $4 million in four years,” and asked for a “balanced approach without burdening the taxpayers.”

The Northeast Fire District taxes were proposed at $5 million, a jump from $3.7 million the year before, according to a chart provided by the county. The Northeast Fire District includes Cedar Creek Township, Leo Cedarville, Grabill, Springfield, and Scipio Township.

Lori DeWitt, on the Springfield Township Board, said “Northeast promised the taxpayers last year in meetings that the budget after last year’s big hike would start to go down when, in fact, it’s $1.3 million more this year. I am very concerned. I know of two widows who had to sell their homes because they can’t afford them anymore. I’m very concerned about the taxpayers.”

DeWitt said the Amish population is looking to move out of the county because of the tax hikes.

Taxes for the Southwest Fire District were approved at $7.4 million; 2023 taxes were $4.1 million for an 81% hike. Brett Wygant, fiscal officer for Southwest, told the council before the vote that, due to tax abatements, the district has lost $193,000 a year each year for the past five years, money that could have gone to the fire district.

The Northwest Fire Department including Huntertown was approved at $9.1 million, a 179% jump from 2023 at $3.3 million.

The West Central Allen County district that includes Aboite was approved at $6.7 million from $1.4 million.

The changes are needed for the increased runs, equipment repairs and personnel costs, district representatives have said.

“For the first time in Allen County history, we’ve created a consolidation among what were either township departments or fire territories or other designations and that created a more cohesive, more county-wide spanning of fire protection. These conversations began back in the 90s and have come to fruition in the last couple of years,” Council Vice President Paul Lagemann said after the meeting.

He gave kudos to the Allen County Commissioners who had to approve the process and the cooperation among the fire districts.

“It provides broader, more professional, more full-time or even paid part-time services in Allen County so when you dial 9-1-1, people show up.  Ultimately that’s what we’re here to make sure that happens,” Lagemann continued.

The significant increases will hopefully stay flat after this year.