Local income tax increase up for county council vote next week

A week before the initial vote, no member of the Bartholomew County Council is publicly expressing a desire to change a proposal to increase the county’s local income tax by 40 percent.

If the rate is raised from 1.25 to 1.75 percent of gross pay, individuals making $50,000 a year would see their local income tax go up by $4.80 a week or $250 a year, according to an estimate by Bartholomew County Auditor Barb Hackman.

After two weeks of budget talks, the county’s 2018 general fund budget still has a $1.7 million deficit, and council member Jorge Morales says there’s nothing left to cut except employees, which he calls unacceptable.

The new tax would raise $4.8 million for the county, and about $6.2 million for the city of Columbus, Hackman said.

“I’m trying to be objective and open-minded,” said Bill Lentz, who voted Tuesday with councilman Matt Miller against considering the increase.

In contrast, four council members — Morales, Chris Ogle, Mark Gorbett and council president Laura DeDomenic — voted to prepare the tax increase proposal for consideration.

Council member Evelyn Pence abstained.

“I know someone here may change their minds (about this tax increase),” DeDomenic said to council Tuesday. “If you do, you need to come to the table with alternatives.”

When the council considered and later refused to support a new cumulative capital development tax in July, a number of anti-tax residents voiced their dissatisfaction.

But Morales said Tuesday he has received up to a half-dozen telephone calls congratulating the council for moving ahead with the tax increase proposal.

“While nobody likes taxes, they understood why we are doing it,” Morales said. “A lot of it stems from the opioid problem we’re having.”

As many as 15 people have told DeDomenic they believe the council is doing the right thing by taking steps to finally address tough issues that keep resurfacing every year, the council president said.

“‘Taking my head out of the sand’ is what one person said to me,” DeDomenic said.

DeDomenic emphasized multiple times on Tuesday that the tax hike is being considered mostly for public safety.

Last month, Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers proposed a 2018 spending plan that calls for nearly $1 million in additional funding for both the jail and law enforcement divisions when compared to the approved 2017 budget.

A study released earlier this year states current jail staffing is 16 full-time positions lower than the standard set by the Indiana Department of Correction, Myers said.

Myers is proposing five additional correction staff members and 10 part-time jail employees. In law enforcement, most of the increase will go toward hiring three new road patrol deputies and obtaining 11 patrol vehicles, Myers said.

The additional funds sought by Myers do not include any proposals from the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress in Bartholomew County.

The alliance is expected to recommend that an unused 120-bed section of the jail be converted into an addiction-recovery center for inmates.

On Tuesday, Myers said he only wants part of that area converted into a recovery center, while the rest should be reserved for inmate overflow.

Miller was the only council member who voiced objections about placing a recovery center inside the jail.

DeDomenic said the city of Columbus was receptive about mutually funding any initiatives proposed by the alliance.

In the payroll portion of the 2018 budget, the county council is considering a 3 percent salary increase for more than 400 county employees.

What's next?

The first reading of an ordinance calling for a hike in local income taxes will be heard along with the first reading of the 2018 budget by the Bartholomew County Council at 6 p.m. Sept. 13.

If approved next week, the second and final readings of both measures will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 10.

The council meets in their fourth floor chambers in the Bartholomew County Government Office building at the corner of Third and Franklin streets.

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