Approving needed tax hike requires board’s courage

Bartholomew County government has a funding problem. It doesn’t generate enough revenue to cover the costs of needs, leaving departments understaffed and valid projects and requests on hold.

The county also has a drug problem. Heroin, on top of methamphetamine, has caused an alarming number of problems — including overdose deaths — and demonstrated the importance of the county investing in drug treatment programs.

It’s clear that the county cannot meet its needs under its current revenue streams and cost-cutting. Years of that two-step approach have not gained traction, and that combination won’t be able to address the drug problem, along with staffing shortages at the Bartholomew County Jail and in the court system — the latter of which is experiencing a skyrocketing caseload because of the drug problem.

The Bartholomew County Council took a good first step toward addressing these issues and funding its needs by passing on first reading Sept. 12 a proposal to increase the county’s local income tax.

It would raise the local income tax in 2018 from 1.25 percent of a worker’s gross pay to 1.75 percent. A person making $50,000 will see income tax deductions go up $4.80 per week, or $250 per year. Increase would raise about $6.2 million for the city and $4.8 million for the county.

The proposal was approved in the initial vote by a 4-3 margin. Laura DeDomenic, Jorge Morales, Mark Gorbett and Chris Ogle voted for it, while Bill Lentz, Evelyn Pence and Matt Miller voted against. The proposal will come up for a final vote Tuesday.

Tax increases are a contentious issue for council members and residents. Understandably, residents want to pay as little in taxes as possible, and want to make sure that what they do pay is used wisely and for important services, such as roads and trash removal.

Tax-increase opponents have questioned whether council members have fully examined the budget for waste that could be removed, and whether they have used the taxpayers’ money wisely.

Consider this: Passage of an increase to the county’s local income tax would be the first tax increase by the county in eight years. That shows council members are not asking for increases on a regular basis, indicating they are trying their best to avoid increases.

However, there comes a point where the needs exceed the ability to fund unless changes are made. That time is now.

Bartholomew County’s drug problem will get worse unless the local community invests in solutions. That includes treatment programs and facilities, and adequate jail and court staff to handle the case load, and adequate levels of law enforcement staff.

The council needs to show the same courage as before and take the final step by approving the proposed increase for a second time. A community’s well-being is at stake.