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Council OKs $3.5 million to lower school taxes

Harrison County taxpayers next year may get the break they’ve been expecting from revenue generated by the gaming riverboat at Bridgeport.
In a move one councilman called “historic,” the Harrison County Council Monday night approved the plan to give $3.5 million to the county’s three school systems to reduce school tax rates by $1.25 per $100 of assessed valuation.
That would amount to an estimated $200 to $400 savings on property tax bills, depending on assessed valuations.
“This is the most important vote this council has ever made,” said Councilman Alvin Brown, whose motion, seconded by Kenneth Saulman, passed unanimously.
The motion also includes the provision that schools also use any interest earned on the revenue for debt service payments.
Brown said officials in other areas with riverboat revenue may now follow Harrison County’s lead to provide tax breaks for their constituents.
Although Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads voted in favor of the funding, she did voice concern that taxpayers might not understand if the tax break couldn’t continue. She said giving a lesser amount might ensure funds would be available in the future.
Gary Davis, chair of the council, told Rhoads: “We felt $3.5 million was an appropriate number for this year.
“Whether we can sustain it next year, we will have to wait and see,” Davis said. “Whether we need to sustain it next year, we need to wait and see.”
Brown said the contingency fund balance, currently at $6.2 million, is healthy and still growing.
The riverboat tax revenue spending now goes to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners for its ruling. The commissioners’ approval would be necessary before an agreement with the schools could be reached for those tax units to receive the money. The commissioners have been charged by the council to ensure, through the agreement, that the funds are used to make annual payment on school building debt.
Also during Monday night’s action-packed session, the council unanimously approved a budget to keep government in operation for another year.
The budget includes $6.6 million in the county general account, which ensures courthouse services, police, emergency care and other vital services for county residents. The amount is up about $400,000 from last year at this stage of the budget setting process and is in keeping with tax adviser Frank Cumming’s recommendation to the council to stay within the allowable increase.
In other action, the council approved spending riverboat tax revenue for the usual percentages in revenue sharing and some $800,000-plus for firefighting equipment, an ambulance station in the north, 4-H spending for improvements to the restrooms at the Harrison County Fairgrounds and a payment to Hoosier Valley required by its bankruptcy.
Those funds included the following: Harrison Township ladder truck, $400,000, from contingency fund; fire hydrants in New Middletown, Boone Township and Heth Township, $75,032 total from contingency; Heth Township Volunteer Fire Dept. tanker truck, $140,000 from contingency; ambulance station in the north, $170,000 from human services fund; 4-H restroom improvements at the fairgrounds, $22,500 from human services fund; Hoosier Valley Economic Opportunity Corp., $10,799 payment resulting from bankruptcy from human services fund, and Town of Palmyra water tank project, $40,000 from contingency.
Roy (Speedy) McClanahan, president of the Palmyra town board, is lobbying for $600,000 for a new water tank, but he told the council all but $40,000 of that won’t be needed until next June or July. The $40,000 will be used to pay some administrative expenses to allow the project to go forward, he said.
A two-percent payment of riverboat revenue based on population in addition to the usual revenue sharing was tabled after Commissioner Terry L. Miller noticed a discrepancy in the amounts designated for Crandall and Elizabeth. Although those two towns have about the same population, Miller said the amount for Elizabeth was nearly double Crandall’s.
To allow time for the figures to be corrected, the council tabled action on that appropriation until its next session, Sept. 24.
The council also approved some $71,504 in spending from the county general fund, including $5,064 for a sheriff’s department maintenance contract, $65,000 for medical services for jail inmates, and $2,440 for the plan commission to recondition a used police car so it can be used by building inspectors.
A $5,000 appropriation from the cumulative courthouse account will be used to pay for repairs to the justice center cooling tower.