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Commissioners face 3 major issues:

Getting back to basics Monday night at the regular session of the Harrison County Board of Commissioners, three major issues arose:
— A request from the county council to approve spending for school debt to cut property taxes;
— A request to invest in matching fund grants to reactivate an upgraded World War II warning system, and
— Whether to send the Harrison County Public Library back to the council for a second attempt to obtain funding to renovate the library’s recently purchased bank building.
The commissioner’s actions come on the heels of last week’s terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
All the projects considered by the commissioners would be funded with tax revenue from Caesars gaming vessel at Bridgeport, not property tax dollars.
The council — having adopted last week the recommendation of a council task force to give $3.5 million to the three public school systems in time to reduce taxes next year by $1.25 per $100 in assessed valuation of property — asked the commissioners for their OK because those officials would have to enter into a contract with the schools on how the money would be used.
Gary Davis, who chairs the council as well as the task force which studied the proposal, said the council decided to use as much boat revenue as possible to reduce property taxes in the first year, but there were no guarantees of future tax relief. “We don’t know what will be required in 2003 when property reassessment happens,” he said.
“We felt we should do as much as we could in the first year, because we didn’t do anything for 2001,” Davis added. “We’re in some respects trying to catch up.”
But the commissioners, especially Terry L. Miller, were also reminded of last year’s last-minute decision by the council to give county employees a bonus. The commissioners agreed to it, and that spending met with a backlash from some constituents. (Miller was the only one of the three commissioners in office at the time).
The fear now is that the $3.5 million might not be available in the future and, after 2002, the result could be a tax increase which no one would appreciate.
Commissioner J.R. Eckart said, “People in the community like consistency in their lives. While they would welcome a huge decrease, but if it increases in 2003, people will be unhappy.”
In general, taxpayers would save varying amounts on tax bills (estimated to be as much as $400) depending on the amount of their property assessment.
Another concern, Eckart said, is that the schools wouldn’t use the money to reduce taxes. He mentioned Lanesville’s decision to save riverboat funds already given for education for future building needs.
Davis said that’s why the council is asking the commissioners to obtain a contract requiring the schools to use the money to reduce tax rates. Only the commissioners have the authority to enter into a contract for the county.
And they questioned whether they would have the authority to stop the schools from adding building programs that would ultimately raise taxes.
“I think the premise is good,” Eckart said, “but I don’t know if we have the ability to accomplish it … whatever debt they incur.”
Commissioner James Goldman, a former North Harrison school trustee, pointed out that schools often have no choice and must follow mandates from the state. And, he said, “The state doesn’t provide dollars for brick and mortar.”
Because there is still time to reflect on the issue before action would have to be taken to ensure a tax break next year, Goldman moved to take the matter under advisement, and the motion was seconded by Eckart.
The commissioners also said they wanted to meet with the county’s tax adviser, Frank Cummings, before reaching a decision.
Davis made no bones about the fact that the council won’t budge on the issue.
“The council is not going to change its recommendation,” he said. “We have already discussed everything brought up here tonight.”
But he reminded the commissioners: “You’re not accountable to the council; you’re accountable to the taxpayers.”
Commissioners agree to match dollars OK’d for warning system
Harrison County’s emergency management director Greg Reas obtained permission from the commissioners to seek about 40 cents on the dollar in matching funds to install an outdoor siren system that could serve as a weather-related warning or otherwise.
The attack by terrorists last week also makes the warning device, first used in World War II, a timely project, Reas said.
The system would be upgraded with today’s technology before being put to use, he said.
The project became possible because the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana has approved $100,000 each for the three counties it serves (Harrison, Floyd and Clark) to implement a warning system. Reas said in addition, the Harrison County Community Foundation has approved $34,484 for the project.
In return, $83,733 in additional funds would be needed from Harrison County, more particularly from riverboat revenue. “Time is of the essence,” Reas said. “Frankly, I feel it’s dropped in our laps. It makes economic sense. Over time, it is a recommendation I planned to make.”
The funding would allow 17 units scattered in more populated areas of the county that would be activated by central dispatch, Reas said.
The commissioners, however, asked Reas to refigure the project, to include warnings at all the schools.
That would cost about $5,000 per site for updated equipment or $11,000 to $15,000 for new systems, Reas said.
“The technology has been revitalized with the controls available today,” Eckart said. “It’s reasonable to me to think that we would be providing a good service to the people.”
Goldman’s motion to seek funding from the council included the provision that an extra $15,000 be included to provide coverage for the schools. His motion was quickly seconded by Eckart, who also thanked the foundations for their work on the project and funding.
Library board gets OK to seek funds to renovate space in bank building
The Harrison County Library’s board of director’s also got approval from the commissioners to return to the council to again seek $500,000 to expand the current facility into the vacated bank building on Capitol Avenue in Corydon.
The library’s request for $500,000 in its budget next year was rejected by the council during a budget hearing on Saturday morning, Aug. 25.
Len Waite, president of the library board, told the commissioners Monday night he believed the funding from riverboat tax revenue was rejected due to misinformation.
He said the board is asking for money to renovate the space adjacent to the current facility, and connect it with the Carnegie library on Beaver Street because plans announced earlier for three branch libraries, have been canceled. Those branches would have cost $2.8 million, he said.
“That was not acceptable,” Waite said.
Under the new plan, the library would own the entire building once occupied by Old Capital Bank & Trust Co., amounting to some 20,400 square feet of space. “In my estimation, we can serve the county quite well with that addition,” Waite said. He said a high estimate places the costs of the renovation at $605,000.
Eckart said, “I don’t know the reason why it was rejected. I thought the request was in line with the premise for a county library.”
Goldman added, “I think it would be quite foolish to stop the project. We have the money to do it, and I think we owe it to the county residents.
He seconded Eckart’s motion to resubmit the request for $500,000 in education riverboat funds.

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