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Council OKs $3.5 million for property tax relief

Preliminary steps were taken Monday night by the Harrison County Council to once again use riverboat revenue to pay down the three public schools’ debts and thereby lower property taxes next year.
Although the council acted unanimously in approving the $3.5 million to come from the riverboat contingency fund, the decision was not in line with the recommendation of the task force. That panel, made up of councilmen Gary Davis, Carl Duley and Kenneth Saulman and Commissioner James Goldman, suggested a $3 million reduction.
Councilman Alvin Brown quickly nixed that idea.
‘I still favor $3.5 million,’ he said. ‘We can surely help …
‘Ninety percent of the people voted for the riverboat to relieve property taxes,’ Brown said. ‘I think we should stick with what we’ve done the last two years.’
According to a report compiled by Davis, who is the council chair and a retired Certified Public Accountant, a reduction of $3 million would translate into a savings of about $326 on property valued at a market price of $180,000. Using $3.5 million would result in a savings of about $456 on property at that market value. Property valued at $120,000 would realize a tax savings of about $500 if the $3.5 million reduction applied.
Brown’s motion to ‘go $3.5 million,’ seconded by Ralph Sherman, passed unanimously.
As chair, Davis did not vote. He said later he wasn’t surprised that his two colleagues on the task force switched their stance and voted in favor of the higher reduction. ‘They were leaning in that direction’ prior to the meeting, Davis said.
For the savings to be realized on next year’s tax bills, the Harrison County Board of Commissioners must enter into an interlocal agreement with the schools to use the money for property tax reduction.
That may not happen at $3.5 million. At least not without more debate.
Last year, the commissioners wanted to use $500,000 of the $3.5 million to start an endowment with the Harrison County Community Foundation, the earnings from which would be used to cover the operating cost of an animal control facility. That didn’t happen ‘ neither the endowment nor the animal control facility.
Commissioner James Goldman made that proposal last year, and he’s not happy now that the $3.5 million passed, for several reasons.
‘Last Friday morning the task force spent a couple of hours discussing the pros and cons of paying the school bonds,’ Goldman said, adding that the consensus was to approve only $3 million.
Goldman thinks the council’s action Monday night is shortsighted. ‘I think the money could be better spent on greater needs,’ he said.
For instance, he said in three years the tax reduction would amount to some $10 million, only $5 million less than Harrison County Hospital has requested to build a state-of-the-art facility.
‘The state legislature would look on us a lot more favorably if we did that,’ Goldman said, in reference to concerns that the state will keep more and more of the riverboat revenue if it doesn’t appear to be needed by the county. The amount has been capped at about $24 million now, and the rest goes to the state.
Councilman Carl (Buck) Mathes said about the same thing at the council meeting.
‘There are some projects in the near future that needs our help,’ he said. ‘If we wasn’t funding this so heavily, we could fund some other worthwhile projects.
‘I am a supporter of the hospital project, and I want us to have some money for them,’ Mathes said.
Davis noted that because the council had voted earlier that night to contribute $50,000 to an endowment with the Harrison County Community Foundation, ‘we will draw interest out of that fund over time.’
That money could be used as a ‘set aside,’ and could one day take the place of the contingency riverboat account, Davis said.
Mathes, Rhonda Rhoads and Kenneth Saulman joined Duley, Brown and Sherman in approving the $3.5 million property replacement.