Income taxes will be going up in Bartholomew County. The County Council gave its final approval for the tax hike last night, with members saying that the county has cut all that can be cut from the county budget and that there is a desperate need to reopen the old section of the county jail.
The tax increase passed with a vote of 4-3. It is expected to bring in about $4.8 million dollars to the county government, with $6 million going to the city of Columbus.
The council approved an increase in the income tax rate from 1.25 to 1.75 percent. Of that 1.75 percent, point two five would go to public safety, another point two five would go to economic development while the rest would be divided between the county, city and other taxing units.
A large crowd packed the meeting room. But only a handful of audience members opted to speak, limited to a 3-minute time limit. Columbus resident Russell Poling spoke against the increase:
Resident Joe Lohmeyer said he supports the tax increase.
Resident Mark Schneider said this was his first time attending a County Council meeting and he was frustrated about the lack of documentation that could be found online beforehand
Resident David Barker said it is the right thing to do for our neighbors.
Resident Don Strietelmeier was opposed to the tax hike, but he also took issue with a 3-minute limit on the time the public was allowed to speak.
Council members supporting the measure were Council President Laura DeDomenic, Mark Gorbett, Chris Ogle and Jorge Morales. In addition to concerns about public safety and the drug epidemic, DeDomenic said the county has huge capital expenses on the horizon including repairs to the courthouse, the veteran’s memorial and new roofs at both the county highway garage and the governmental office building.
Morales spoke passionately about his change of heart on the tax increase. Saying that time spent watching deputies and jail staff deal with the opiate epidemic convinced him that staffing shortages were putting those county employees and the public in jeopardy.
Of the three council members voting against the increase, Evelyn Pence said that the county did little to cut department’s spending during this year’s budget hearings. Bill Lentz said he would prefer a short-term bond rather than a permanent tax with much of the money going to the city. And Matt Miller said that the county does not have a detailed plan for how the money will be spent, nor will spending increases solve the opioid epidemic.