County Council rejects new tax

Decision not to add local income tax costing county $700,000 in state funds

An anti-tax Bartholomew County Council walked away from an anti-business tax increase, leaving almost $700,000 in state funds on the table.

“It’s tabled until next year, I guess,” council president Laura DeDomenic said Tuesday after a motion from council member Mark Gorbett to enact the new tax failed to get a second.

Although Gorbett said he expects a new local income tax will be considered this fall, council member Bill Lentz made it clear he doesn’t have that same expectation.

“I don’t want the headlines to be that we voted this down, but that the next thing is going to be a local income tax,” Lentz said. “I’m not pushing any further tax at this point.”

Instead, Lentz said he will wait until after the council begins its 2018 budget talks Aug. 16 to see what financial details develop.

The purpose of a cumulative capital development tax is to raise money to build and maintain county-owned facilities. A consultant’s report issued in February stated it could cost more than $12 million to renovate or replace deteriorating Bartholomew County facilities over the next decade.

But at the rate of .0167 cents per $100 of assessed valuation that Gorbett proposed Tuesday, the tax would have raises just enough to get back $698,053 lost this year due to a state law change that reduces income to counties that have not enacted the proposed tax.

By refusing to support his motion to get that money back, the council has essentially wasted $30,000 in consultant fees, Gorbett said.

“We’ve had two consultants tell us we need new revenue streams, but we don’t listen,” Gorbett said. “I’m just trying to get revenue back that we lost. And what we’re going to do is sit up here and take revenue away. That is wrong.”

But another member of the all-Republican council, Chris Ogle, said his objection is that the proposed tax is not evenly distributed throughout the general public.

“It’s not going to affect me as a homeowner, but I know for a fact the people who will pay the biggest price will be commercial property owners,” Ogle said.

That’s because businesses and rental property owners would not receive mortgage deductions and homestead exemption that would limit the residential property tax to $9.36 per $100,000 assessment, county officials said.

Agricultural property also would not be entitled to tax breaks, council member Jorge Morales said.

Similar concerns were voiced by council member Matt Miller. After a discussion regarding jail overcrowding and the community’s heroin epidemic, Miller said recovering drug addicts and released inmates will eventually need jobs.

“A large percentage of people work for small businesses,” said Miller, a first-year councilman. “When you look at the taxes these businesses are already paying, that’s where this tax increase is going to hurt a lot.”

The longest-serving council member, Evelyn Pence, cited both political ideology and public opposition as her reasons for not supporting the tax.

“The 2016 Republican platform said they believe budgets should be balanced and should reduce spending, rather than increasing spending,” Pence said. “That’s what we were running on.”

As they did during a hearing earlier this month, a small number of county residents voiced opposition against the tax Tuesday.

Arguments from audience members largely focused on the overall impact on low- or fixed-income families after a recent 10 cents-per-gallon gas tax hike went into effect, as well as the Columbus City Council’s decision to increase its own cumulative capital development tax rate in June.

County's financial needs

Bartholomew County government’s financial needs outlined last month in a consultant’s report laid out a number of large, looming expenses that include:

  • $5 million for a new highway garage.
  • $4.5 million for building maintenance and improvements.
  • $4.2 million for inflation, contingencies and reserves.
  • $3 million for courthouse renovations.

Other financial needs expressed by various departments include:

  • Making up for financial losses from a state mandate requiring low-level felons to serve their sentences in the county jail. While the state is reimbursing the county $35 a day per inmate, jail officials say the actual cost runs between $85 to $100.
  • A dozen new employees required mostly by the courts and sheriff’s department.
  • Two-way radios and body cameras needed for deputies and emergency responders.
  • Funding to address substance-abuse issues.

Pull Quote

“We’ve had two consultants tell us we need new revenue streams, but we don’t listen.”

Mark Gorbett, Bartholomew County Council

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.