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Tax relief delayed while future debated

Harrison County officials Monday delayed a decision until their next meeting on releasing the $3 million in riverboat revenue allocated by the council earlier for property tax relief through reduced school taxes.
‘Why not digest what we’ve heard today,’ suggested Commissioner James Goldman at Monday’s meeting. ‘Give us a chance to cool down and make a decision’ at the next meeting, Dec. 19.
Goldman, and Commissioners J.R. Eckart, chair, and Jim Heitkemper, were pondering Council Chair Gary Davis’ request that they approve payments to the three public school districts to reduce tax bills next year.
Davis said he realizes that using riverboat revenue to reduce school taxes must be phased out over time, due to uncertainties surrounding the amount of riverboat revenue Harrison County will continue to receive.
Riverboat communities receiving such revenue dodged a bullet in the last legislative session, after a plan to shift most of the money to the state failed to pass the General Assembly.
In the meantime, though, Davis said, ‘I’m asking you to release these funds to the school corporations.’
The commissioners’ responses were mixed, with no compromise in sight.
Eckart said he’d approve the request immediately if the tax breaks could apply only to agricultural or residential parcels of real estate and not to industry or commercial businesses. Otherwise, he said, it is counter-productive to bringing in new industry.
‘We solicit big companies to bring in taxes and then we give them a rebate,’ Eckart said.
Heitkemper said he supported reducing property taxes with riverboat revenue before he became involved in politics, but now he’s not so sure.
‘I haven’t totally changed my mind,’ he said, adding that school building projects are ‘out of control.’
He asked if taxpayers whose bills were over a certain amount (indicating industrial property) could be excluded from receiving the tax break.
‘That can’t happen the way we’ve appropriated the money,’ Davis said, adding that even if it could, the issue may be one of fairness to those who are excluded just because they have more money.
Goldman said his concern has always been that the money allocated to the schools is disproportionate. South Harrison has a larger tax base to spread out the impact on individual property tax payers, Goldman said, so they benefit the most.
‘North Harrison has to tax them two times, Lanesville, five times,’ Goldman said. ‘People who are less able to pay the taxes are punished.’
He is also concerned with meeting the long-range needs of the people, pointing to improvements that are needed in the infrastructure, including new and improved roads and sewage treatment, that should take precedence.
‘Are we going to turn our heads from all these needs and leave it to our children to deal with?’ he asked.
Davis said funds would be available next year for those improvements and more.
In the meantime, the commissioners and council will meet in special session Saturday to review long-range plans with Indianapolis architect Joseph Mrak.
Mrak wrote the county’s 20-year plan 10 years ago. Many of the proposals under that plan have now been met, so the plan needs to be updated, officials said.
The commissioners will meet at 9 a.m. Saturday and at 10 in a joint work session with the council.