For decades, your local government units have published proposed budgets and notice of the hearing where you have the opportunity to question or offer your opinion concerning the planned collection of tax dollars, expenditure of those funds and estimated impact on your property tax rate.

State law required the publication of this important information as a paid public notice advertisement. Paid notices give the government unit control over what is printed and prevent the newspaper from adding any editorial spin on the text or delete any of the budget information. To collect the fee, the newspaper has incentive to make sure the notice is published error-free and on the designated date to give you time to make arrangements so you can attend a budget hearing if you so choose.

That all changed with passage of H.E.A. 1266, authored by Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, in the 2014 legislative session. Suggested by the state Department of Local Government Finance, the act eliminates the publication requirement that placed that budget information into the hands 3.8 million Indiana newspaper readers (based on a 2014 American Opinion Research survey of Hoosiers' attitudes on public notice advertising).

The budgets are now posted on the DLGF website, a website that contains a wealth of information, but has a fraction of the reach of newspapers, including the one you are now reading. In fact, only 4,633 unique visitors clicked onto the portion of the DLGF website where local government budgets are posted during the last six months of 2014.

Paid published notice of the date and time the various local government unit governing bodies will allow you to speak out on their budgets is no longer required of these units. They now are only required to post the notice at their office location and inform media outlets, such as this newspaper of meeting times so that editors can determine whether they have a reporter available to cover the public meeting.

In killing an attempt during the 2015 legislative session to restore requirement to publish the notice of budget hearing, House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, took the position that if newspapers believe the information is important, they should publish it for free.

That's not a fair or practical position. Space in any newspaper is a limited quantity and paid notices guarantee placement of information in this newspaper. The Times provide a service by connecting the government message to a maximum number of Hoosier in the most economical fashion. (In addition it's fair to note that newspapers are limited in what they can charge government units for published notices and, in The Times, that limit amounts, based on a single run of an ad, to 68.2 percent, or for two runs (as the budgets were required to run until this year) to a 76 percent discount.)

No one would seriously argue that other service providers or vendors to state and local government should be expected to provide their services or good for free. Should the local car dealership be expected to provide police cruisers to the sheriff's department for free? How about gravel, asphalt, etc., needed to maintain county roads? Should the local Office Depot donate paper and other office supplies?

The answer is "no" and newspapers can't afford to give away advertising space. This newspaper will report on news affecting its readers, but we can't guarantee we can attend every meeting of every government unit during the year and devote 10 to 20 inches of space for each of those meetings in our editions. Stop to think how many local government units there are in the county.

Critics will say we are only interested in the revenue. The average cost of the notice of budget hearings across the state was $167, according to Legislative Services Agency, the staff for the General Assembly. We obviously value all advertising revenue, but the loss of this revenue will not close our doors, but the end of the published notice will lessen your ability to hold government officials accountable.

We believe the legislature erred in moving the budget information out of newspapers and your hands, unintentionally hiding the information in plain sight on a state agency website that few people will ever find.

The legislative rationale confuses the concept of available to the public with public notice. Putting something on the Internet makes it available to the public, but hardly means the public will see it. The publication of public notices puts the information in Hoosier hands without the need for any to take a second step and track down additional information on a government website.

When Hoosiers were asked about the impact of moving public notices from newspapers to the Internet, 46 percent said they would read public notices less often or much less often (based on the American Opinion Research survey). Only 15 percent said they would read them more often or much more often if moved to the Internet.

We thought you should know why you may be surprised to discover after the fact when local government agencies approve budgets with expenditures or tax increases that trouble you.