Saturday, September 20, 2014

County council discusses decision to hire lobbyists

The Elkhart County Council has hired a team of lobbyists to urge state lawmakers to approve a new local option income tax.
Posted on Jan. 11, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 11, 2014 at 5:38 p.m.

GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Council will likely get help paying for two lobbyists to urge state lawmakers in Indianapolis to approve a new local option income tax.

County commissioner Mike Yoder told the county council Saturday, Jan. 11, that two cities — Elkhart and Goshen — and one school have offered to chip in for a pair of lobbyists that the county council agreed to hire for $5,000 per month during the legislative session.

“As soon as we asked for money, questions came up about how much and when, so we thought let’s just wait until we know how big the bill is and whether we hire them for the entire session or not,” Yoder told council members. “Once we have a bill, we’ll divide it up and create a payment schedule based on that.”

The county council wants state legislators to approve a circuit breaker relief local option income tax of up to 1 percent that would help the county recoup money lost because of property tax caps.

County council president John Letherman said some people have questioned why the county would hire lobbyists.

“Frankly, there are 10 to 15 people in Indianapolis who really run everything, and you’ve got to get to them, and that’s what lobbyists do,” he explained. “We don’t have the money to have people just stop and park in Indianapolis and try to catch these people in the halls and go to the various receptions where a lot of this discussion takes place, so we hired Barnes and Thornburg who has guys down there that just do that for people.”

Yoder pointed out that one lawmaker — Indiana Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen — has been critical of the plan to approve a new local option income tax. On the other hand, Yoder said Indiana Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, is supportive and has drafted a bill that Indiana Rep. Rebecca Kubacki, R-Syracuse, is expected to co-sign.

“The rest of the legislators seem to be lukewarm at best,” Yoder said. “In fact, I don’t think we have anybody that’s really, really warm or hot on the issue.”

Letherman said the new local option income tax would give the county more flexibility than the options the state has now. State approval would give the county a new alternative to offset losses from property tax caps, he said.

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