Local government officials are already brainstorming on what issues to impress upon state legislators before the 2015 Indiana General Assembly session.
Mike Yoder, county commissioner, led an intergovernmental forum Wednesday, May 28, that included Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, county councilmen Dave Foutz, John Letherman and Tom Stump and Laura Coyne, county redevelopment coordinator. A common thread throughout the forum was a perceived disconnect between state legislators’ budget expectations for local government and what’s realistic.
"When we talk about what legislators’ perception is, it’s always that government is too fat, and that’s where I wish they’d listen in on some of our budget sessions,” Kauffman said.
Tom Stump, county council member, praised Goshen and the county as good examples of cutting back to make ends meet.
“You have become more efficient, so as a taxpayer, I like that,” Stump said.
“We’ve become more decrepit,” challenged David Foutz, county council member. “When do we stop letting the buildings fall down?”
Several times, Yoder stressed the importance of teaching legislators about tax increment financing (TIF) districts and why they’re important for the county.
Essentially, a designated TIF district collects extra tax revenues created from new growth, then uses that money exclusively within that district for new projects. TIF districts have been a way for the county to collect and distribute additional revenue, especially since property tax caps started taking a toll on the budget.
“We have a new generation of legislators that weren't around when tax caps were implemented and I don’t think they understand it at all,” Yoder said.
The group also discussed the possibility of implementing a county-wide local option income tax (LOIT) to help rebuild revenue that’s been lost to property tax caps.
Coyne said a LOIT will make more sense as wages in the county rebound, “but right now people are still hurting and it really is a tough, tough thing,” she said.
Yoder suggested holding off on proposing legislative changes until the fall and using the summer months to talk with state legislators about TIF districts and the structure of local budgets.