County hires lobbyist to push new tax plan

The county could pay about $22,000 for the lobbying services over the entire legislative session.

Posted on Dec. 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 14, 2013 at 12:44 p.m.

GOSHEN — County commissioner Mike Yoder is working on a new plan to offset losses from property tax caps.

In a Saturday, Dec. 14, meeting, council members agreed to fund a lobbying team to help this new plan advance in the coming legislative session.

“The purpose of the lobbyist is to ensure that the cause doesn’t get lost in the fog,” Yoder explained later. “We want to make sure that our legislation is in the mix, and that (the lobbying team) actually assists our legislators.”

Yoder hopes to implement a new local option income tax of up to 1 percent. This option, he said, would help schools, towns and cities immensely.

He thinks this plan is better than the three local option income taxes available now, because “we will only raise what we need,” he said.

“Every year we calculate our circuit breaker losses,” Yoder explained. “Next year, if we only lose half, then that (tax) rate will only be 0.5 percent. Eventually, the rate declines or it could go away.”

During Saturday’s council meeting, council president John Letherman noted that nobody wants to talk about raising taxes, but the discussion is sometimes necessary.

“We are getting close to the end our reserves — we have to do something,” Letherman said. “Shame on us if we don’t try.”

The county’s contract with Barnes and Thornburg, a law firm based in Indianapolis, supports a team of two lobbyists at $5,000 per month, Yoder said.

“We should know by mid-January whether we have any chance at all of getting this,” Yoder said.

If the lobbying team does work throughout the entire legislative session, its contract with the county should expire at the end of March, he added. The team has already started some work, and would end up working with the county for about 4 1/2 months total if they work throughout the entire legislative session.

Yoder said that Elkhart County has hired lobbyists to help with local option income tax legislation in the past.

The last instance of this happening, he said, was about 12 years ago when the county needed to implement a tax to build the new jail.

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