A Local Option Income Tax (LOIT) for those who live and work in Bartholomew County is off of the table for now.
The Bartholomew County Council rejected the proposal, offered up by District 3 Councilman Mark Gorbett during the council’s Tuesday night meeting. He opined that the tax would be a good way to shore up the county’s budget following a near-disastrous budget session for 2016. Gorbett, the former Sheriff, had been pressuring his fellow council members for weeks to go along with the LOIT proposal, or offer up their own plan for dealing with the budget shortfalls, which are projected to continue for years to come.
Gorbett noted that the only reason that the county was able to balance the 2016 budget was through increasing the portion of healthcare costs paid by county employees and through the generosity of County Commissioners. He reminded the body that the Commissioners pledged not only to forego their already approved annex project, but also gave the council approximately one-million dollars that was earmarked for county roads. “We can’t keep doing this!,” exclaimed Gorbett, “We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He also pointed out that the Commissioners have made it clear that they will not be offering money up in 2017, especially if the council has no plan in place to deal with the budget shortfall.
Gorbett pointed to his experience as Sheriff in saying that the council was entering dangerous territory, budget wise, as it relates to public safety. He noted that this budget session marks two times since he was the county’s top law-enforcement officer that the council has held off on purchasing new vehicles for Deputies. “I feel for (Sheriff) Matt (Myers),” said Gorbett, who noted that crime is going up in this area. He went on to say that if steps aren’t taken, some services will have to be dropped. If not dropped completely, continued Gorbett, residents will need to start paying a fee to receive services like funeral processions, responding to false alarms and others. Perhaps eluding to future budget issues, the Sheriff’s Department announced a new policy last week that will see the department charge a fee to those who request the services of the Reserve Unit for private events.
Councilman Jorge Morales said that he was uncomfortable instituting a new tax and suggested that the issue be studied more in-depth. He suggested that there could be further savings squeezed from different departments. Councilman Jim Reed, who had previously supported the LOIT option, voted against it, saying that now that the 2016 budget is nearly finished and balanced, he also wanted to see if there is a way to increase revenue or decrease spending without the tax. He expressed hope that the changes to the county’s health insurance trust must alleviate some of the pressure on the budget.
The LOIT proposal failed on a vote of two-to-five. Along with Gorbett, First District Councilman Chris Ogle voted for passage. Morales, Reed, Laura DeDomenic, Evelyn Pence and William Lentz all voted “No.”