Tuesday, January 14, 2014

News Reports Elkhart County Council Puts Lobbyist Funding on Hold

From the Goshen News:

Elkhart County Council members voted Saturday to temporarily drop a request by the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners for $22,500 to go toward the hiring of a local law firm to serve as a lobbyist for the county beginning next year.

The initial request for the funding was connected to the board’s recent exploration of a several new taxing options for the county in the hopes of finding a way to minimize the county’s ongoing losses in property tax revenue resulting from the state’s circuit breaker property tax credits.

During the council’s November 2013 meeting, County Commissioner Mike Yoder informed the council that he and a small group of local legislators known as the Intergovernmental Forum had spent the past few months examining the current and future impacts of the circuit breaker tax credits on Elkhart County.

What the group found, he said, is that Elkhart County has actually been hit harder than most counties in the state when it comes to losses in tax revenue.

As an example, Yoder pointed to a recent study by the financial advising firm Umbaugh and Associates indicating that the county will likely continue to face funding shortfalls in the range of $4 to $6 million every year for the foreseeable future unless a new revenue source is found.

Current Options

As things stand now, Yoder said, the county only has three options for additional funding available when it comes to local income tax options provided by the General Assembly, none of which he thinks are very good. Those options include:

• Increasing the existing Local Option Income Tax by 1 percent, which he said would generate property tax relief, and thus reduce the circuit breaker losses somewhat.

• Passing a property tax levy freeze that would limit growth in property taxes levied by funding the increases with a local income tax of up to 1 percent.

• If county officials approve one of the first two options, they then have the option to establish a Public Safety Income Tax that would provide a local income tax of up to 0.25 percent to fund public safety costs. However, Yoder said the Umbaugh report indicated that the county would need to do at least a 1.25 percent income tax increase to even begin to approach recovering from the circuit breaker losses.