An ordinance paving the way for a potential property tax increase was adopted by the Pulaski County Council Monday, but not without some opposition. The county council voted four-to-two to “thaw” the county’s property tax levy freeze. That means the tax levy may increase within the limits set by the state’s growth quotient.
However, several of the council members, including Kathi Thompson, stressed that Monday’s action does not by itself increase property taxes. “What we’re talking about tonight is the first step in a process of we need to look at increasing income and decreasing expenses, and if there is a possibility that we have to increase income in property taxes, we cannot do it unless we act before June 30,” she explained. “What we’re doing tonight would only give us the ability to do that. It’s not doing it.”
The council is in the process of trying to stabilize the county’s finances, to avoid a $2.7 million deficit that’s expected to develop over the coming years.
But Council Member Rudy DeSabatine, who voted against the ordinance, wanted to wait until further action was taken to cut spending, before taking even this preliminary step. “All the talk right here is ‘We’re going to raise property taxes.’ We have put zero effort into slowing up our spending,” he said. “There has been no direction to that whatsoever. There has been nothing done to the budgets. There has been nothing to cut anything, and we’re not doing a single thing in the world to stop any spending going on. All we’re talking about is raising the taxes again.”
DeSabatine’s comments came just hours after the county commissioners voted to eliminate the county’s IT Department, in part, to control costs, and as council members continue trying to schedule meetings with the department heads to discuss potential cuts.
Mike Tiede cast the other opposing vote. Council Member Ken Boswell was not present to vote on the ordinance Monday, but voiced his support by phone. He said there’s a real imbalance between income and property taxes. “We pay one of the highest income taxes,” Boswell said. “I own a 120-acre farm. I paid over two times what I paid in property taxes in just county income taxes. It’s hard to explain to somebody that they should live in Pulaski County when everybody – I don’t care where you go in Indiana – everybody knows we have the highest income tax.” Boswell added that even if property taxes go up, they’d still be lower than most other counties.
Council members also voiced some concern with the wording of the ordinance. It says that one of the reasons for the levy freeze thaw is that the county “desires to increase their tax levy to the maximum possible amount,” which council members stressed is not necessarily the case. County Attorney Kevin Tankersley said that language doesn’t mean the council has to do that, and the ordinance was passed as-written.
Still, Council Member Scott Hinkle vowed to keep any tax increase to a minimum. “I’m going to vote to thaw it, but I will do my diligence to keep the increase the least amount possible, and we’re all on the same page as that,” he said. “But we need to thaw it to give us that option. Hopefully, we can cut and we don’t even have to, in the ideal world.” Council Member Boswell added that every council member is committed to cutting spending before any final decision is made to hike taxes.