Merrillville endorses county income tax on heels of Hobart vote
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent September 11, 2012 9:26PM
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:39PM
MERRILLVILLE — Following Hobart’s lead, the Merrillville Town Council on Tuesday passed a resolution in support of a local option income tax in Lake County.
A copy of the resolution will be sent to both the Lake County Council and Lake County Board of Commissioners, the governing boards charged with voting on the tax, once all council members sign it.
Councilwoman Chrissy Barron, D-5th, and Councilman Ron Widing, D-7th, were absent from the meeting, which began with a 9/11 memorial service that included a medley of patriotic songs by the Merrillville High School choir and playing of the national anthem by the school’s orchestra.
Council President Shawn Pettit, D-6th, asked town administrator Howard Fink to place the item on the agenda after learning that Hobart passed a similar resolution asking Lake County officials to pass a 1 percent county option income tax. Hobart was the first municipality in the county to pass a resolution in support of the tax.
Hobart Council President Dave Vinzant, D-4th, proposed the money generated from the tax be used for property tax relief as well as a 0.25 percent tax for public safety and a 0.25 percent tax for capital projects.
“My position is not about the money generated by the option income tax, but about the penalty if we don’t pass it. We estimate $350,000 to $400,000 is sitting on the table,” Pettit said.
Fink said that is the amount the town loses per year as a result of the state freezing Lake County’s levy. The freeze is a penalty imposed on the county for not passing the county option income tax. Every other county in the state has passed the tax.
“We’ve lost about $1.5 million over five years. That’s a significant decrease in what we budget,” Fink said.
Fink also pointed out that the tax will help lower property taxes for homeowners who have a homestead exemption.
Pettit said the town has gone to the department heads to cut their budgets as much as they could.
“At the end of the day, services will suffer. There will be less police officers and firefighters and roads won’t get paved,” Pettit said.
Councilman Tom Goralczyk, D-4th, said while he agrees the town needs the money, he feels the county council and commissioners are the governing bodies that should pass this resolution.
“This is an option income tax, but there are no other options. It’s the same thing I stressed to the governor,” Goralczyk said.
Resident Dee Evans-Hein voiced her support for the new tax.
“When it first came out about the county tax, I thought it was ridiculous, unfair and wrong. But as a citizen of the state, county and Merrillville, I agree with this resolution. Merrillville citizens have been penalized, told that services are not available. It’s time to step back and look at this logically and objectively. It’s time to look at the citizens of Lake County. We are being hurt,” she said.