Council weighs tax option for justice upgrades

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

A possible income tax to fund the costs for expanding the Dubois County Security Center and Community Corrections facilities was discussed at length Monday evening.

The Dubois County Council took no vote on the matter. Instead the ordinance for a correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income tax was read by County Attorney Greg Schnarr.

What the council did determine at Monday’s 90-minute meeting was that there were a lot of unknowns about what the funding could be used for.

If approved, the tax would be a .2% increase on the current income tax, which stands at 1%. This would raise an estimated $2.48 million annually, said Matt Eckerle of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, the Indianapolis firm helping the county determine its financial options. The median household, which has an income of about $57,000, would see an annual increase of about $107, he said.

The tax would end when the project’s debts are paid or until it hits the limit as noted in state statute, whichever is shorter, Schnarr said.

If the council approves the tax before July 1, the county can use the revenue from it as it pleases for the security center project; but the tax would be in place for a maximum of 20 years. If the tax is passed after July 1, up to 20% of the revenue would have to be used for operation costs, like staffing, at the security center, and the tax would be in place for a maximum of 22 years.

“That is a major concern for me and my constituents,” Councilwoman Charmian Klem said. “When the rate was raised for the current facility, the council said that would be repealed.”

It was not repealed, she noted.

That tax, formerly called the economic development income tax and now known as the local income tax, was designed specifically for economic development projects. The county used its portion to provide funds for building the current security center in the early 1990s. That tax revenue, by law, was split between the county and the five municipalities, the split being determined by population.

A tax council comprised of the municipalities and county determines if the tax is passed or rescinded. Although attempts were made by previous county councils to get the tax rescinded, the tax council opted not to. The county has 47% of the vote on the tax council, so it cannot implement or rescind a tax on its own, County Council President Jerry Hunefeld said.

The correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income is completely controlled by the county and is to be used only for correction and rehabilitation facilities.

A question no one knew the answer to was what kinds of projects the correctional and rehabilitation facilities tax revenue could cover.

“At what point does corrections and rehabilitation costs start and stop? Does it include probation?” Commissioner Chad Blessinger asked. “We know the jail pod is covered. But does it cover new courtrooms?”

The county commissioners have been looking into what improvements need to be made to the county’s justice system as a whole. Two options are being considered.

The cheaper of the two — $43.1 million — includes remodeling the current security center; adding on a jail pod building that will increase the number of beds to between 244 and 270 beds; expanding the community corrections facility; adding surface parking; and adding a building that would house the courts and a connector between the courts facility and jail.

If those other facilities — the courts, the prosecutor’s office and the probation department — are moved, “will that be covered under this tax?” Hunefeld asked.

The other option, at $50.8 million, includes using the Old National site at Sixth and Mill streets. This option would include adding a building on the east side of the site for the jail beds and a parking garage on the west side; the Old National building would also be renovated and used for administrative offices, and the current community corrections facility would still be expanded.

Dave McGimpsey of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, the bond counsel for this project, said that would have to be researched, since this tax option is relatively new.

Councilman Doug Uebelhor asked if it’s possible to increase the user fees that come from individuals using the facilities. Eckerle said that could be analyzed, “but ultimately bond market would not look at user fees as a reliable source.”

“People are not very happy with this,” Uebelhor said. “So I’m looking at how to lessen that burden on them.”

Community Corrections Director Megan Durlauf said the user fees help fund the facility’s operations and help cover officers’ salaries. “I don’t want to be put in a position where we can’t get a raise because money is going to construction (costs),” she said.

She also asked if using part of this revenue for operations is a good idea. “Do we want to get into a position of relying on a tax for operations, on a tax that will go away in 22 years” Durlauf asked. “From a department position, if $500,000 was going to go away from my department, that’s huge.”

The county does have other revenues that could help with funding the project, Hunefeld said, mentioning the local income/economic development tax revenue and cash the county has been saving over the years.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner asked the county to also consider the public safety tax. That tax, which is already in place, is used for projects that improve public safety. Municipalities would also get a portion of that revenue. “We are looking for funding for our public safety,” he said.

That would be under the jurisdiction of the tax council, Hunefeld acknowledged. Since the county council has only 47% of the vote in that council, he said that conversation should start with the municipalities.

“I would not start that conversation on that without having a conversation with you first,” Spinner said.

A public hearing about the correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income tax will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 24, after which the county council will consider its passage. The county council will also hold its regular meeting that day at 4:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the commissioners/council room on the second floor of the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.




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