Starke County Council Freezes Drug and Tobacco Free Funds, Innkeepers Tax

The Starke County Council discusses the issue of misappropriated funds

The recent revelation of misappropriated money from Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County and Starke County Tourism has caused embarrassment to members of several interlocking boards, and consternation on the part of county government officials. Those government officials expressed anger and frustration at this week’s Starke County Council meeting.

Tourism and Drug and Tobacco Free Starke County members have been most embarrassed by the revelation of the admission of theft by Jennie Carter. Tourism board members were afraid that county officials might cut off or delay Innkeepers Tax funding.

Debbie Mix, who holds positions in both the Chamber and Tourism offices was first up Monday night with a plea. After passing out colored advertising pamphlets and talking about the amount of money tourism brings into the county, Mix asked that the council to table any action until a future date.

“Before you make a real hard decision tonight, I would ask that you would please table it for next month before you make any kind of decisions as what to do with the Innkeepers Tax or what you’re going to do with it and how it’s going to be handled,” said Mix. “Next month, after you’ve looked at it, then discuss it and do something then.”

But that plea was not enough for the members to delay action. Councilman, Mark Smith, expressed his personal frustration with the way the Innkeepers Tax money was dispensed.

“If you look at most taxes that are generated anywhere, somebody’s got to be in charge of the maintenance, collection and the spending and that there’s accountability,” said Smith. “I think what is assumed by the State of Indiana when you institute an Innkeepers Tax is that CVC is going to be kind of the stewards of that money. I think what really has happened here that I have a real issue with is that CVC is essentially made up of the very same people that are on the Tourism Board. The CVC gives the money, maybe not one hundred percent, but almost one hundred percent of it to the Tourism Board. So, it’s basically removed the accountability for those funds.”

Smith was not in favor of letting that Innkeepers Tax money being handled as it has been in the past.

“Regardless of the duties and the pamphlets and the brochures and all that, it’s basically created a situation where I feel like I’m accountable for the taxpayers and the Innkeepers money. I feel like the Commissioners created a board that any of us should be able to go to that board and ask specifically where that money goes. The only answer you’re going to get is ‘we gave it to Tourism’. The fact that we’re sitting here today dealing with misappropriation or theft, but certainly I think we would have a lot more direct line of accountability for that money if it was being handled properly.”

Smith was not the only one up in arms as both council and commission members expressed similar frustrations.

In the end, the council members voted to freeze two funds until they are convinced safeguards are in place for a checks and balances system to oversee the funds. Innkeepers Tax and Drug and Tobacco Free funds are now frozen until the officials feel comfortable they are being handled correctly.