Now that the Pulaski County Commissioners have recommended a path forward for courthouse renovations, discussions about how to fund it will begin in the county council and the Indiana General Assembly. State Representative Doug Gutwein has introduced legislation that would allow a special income tax that’s currently in place to pay for the Justice Center to be extended until 2036 to fund courthouse renovations.
But with Pulaski County’s income taxes already the highest in the state, many county council members want to explore other options to cover the estimated $7.7 million cost. During Monday’s meeting, Council Member Jay Sullivan suggested using Cumulative Building funds to cover engineering fees, while Rudy DeSabatine wanted to look into borrowing money from county departments’ investments.
“For one thing, we’ve got $4.25 million sitting in CDs at 2.1 percent,” DeSabatine said. “The highest ones, the oldest ones, are at 2.8. As soon as they come up, they’ll go down to two, 2.1. I don’t know all the legalities of it. Is there a possibility the county could borrow from these entities or from the drainage board to the different things? Could they borrow from them at that 2.1-percent rate, instead of buying bonds and hiring lawyers?”
Meanwhile, Council Member Mike Tiede suggested having Darren Bates with Data Pit Stop offer some ideas to lower the income tax. “He has the ideas of doing stuff that aren’t just, ‘Raise taxes. Raise taxes,’” Tiede said. “He says you can get the numbers to match. He’ll know how much money we have in CDs and stuff like that. I mean, I think we ought to find out at least how much he’d charge to come up here.”
But Council Member Kathi Thompson was concerned about hiring someone who isn’t actually a financial planner. “The financial planner that we paid gave us that information about how we can level out income and property taxes,” she pointed out.
DeSabatine replied, “I thought the financial planner we paid $30,000 to’s answer was ‘Let’s raise taxes.’” Some other council members disagreed.
Community Development Commission Executive Director Nathan Origer, who’s serving as the county’s liaison for the courthouse renovations, said there’s no way the county could raise enough money through property taxes to pay for the project. “For whatever reason, Doug Gutwein made it clear he was not interested in pushing legislation to increase our [property tax] levy for the courthouse,” Origer added. “He was willing to do it to continue the existing income tax.”
As a next step, Auditor Laura Wheeler recommended scheduling a special meeting to have County Attorney Kevin Tankersley explain the bond process. In the end, they decided to wait until their February 10 joint session with the county commissioners but do their own research individually.
Representative Gutwein may need a county representative to testify before the Ways and Means Committee before that, but as of Monday’s meeting, no council members had read the actual bill. Council Member Brian Young offered to speak with Gutwein and make the trip to Indianapolis, if needed. Even if the bill is approved at the state level, the county council would still be able to lower the special income tax or remove it entirely.