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Mathes’ tax relief plan denied by narrow vote

The Harrison County Council Monday night voted to keep the $2 million property tax relief method the same as recent years by giving it to the three county school corporations to reduce debt.
The decision was made after Commissioner Carl (Buck) Mathes proposed a new plan which would have given the $2 million directly to residents through the Homestead credit on tax bills.
Mathes said he’s unsure how much relief is received with the school debt reduction method, adding that to change the relief method the board had to create an ordinance before the end of 2009.
‘It always bothered me that it may allow them (school corporations) to borrow more money,’ Mathes said.
He said his plan for relief would increase an average return for a three-bedroom house, appraised at about $105,000, from $28 to approximately $100.
Mathes said the nice thing about the plan is that the property tax relief is spelled out on the tax bill.
‘I’m not necessarily against this, but it’s not new money,’ Councilman Gordon Pendleton, who expressed interest in changing the method next year, said. ‘It’s just a transfer from schools to people.’
Pendleton provided a handout from South Harrison Community School Corp. that detailed the debt reduction method and showed a $90 savings for residents of the district.
Pendleton also said it upsets him that taxpayers don’t know what benefits they receive from riverboat funds.
Before the vote, council chair Chris Timberlake said his preference would be to see everyone get the tax relief.
Mathes agreed with Timberlake, saying the method he wanted to do was to write a $2 million check to the county treasurer and have it split among all taxpayers, but state legislation only allows relief to be applied to homestead property owners, which is only about one-third of taxpayers in the county.
Only those people who are eligible and have signed up for the credit (deadline to sign up for the credit is Jan. 5) would have received the extra property tax relief from the proposed plan, which was rejected with a 4-2-1 vote in favor of keeping the school debt reduction method.
Councilman Ralph Sherman made the motion to keep the relief method as is and Councilman Jim Heitkemper seconded. Timberlake and Councilwoman Leslie Robertson added their support. Pendleton abstained.
Robertson said she wanted language in the agreement, which is written between the board of commissioners and the school corporations, to ensure the money will be used in the appropriate manner and time frame.
Heitkemper said he couldn’t support the change on such short notice but could give it more consideration next year.
The county also supplies the schools with another $2 million in riverboat gaming funds, which the schools use for a variety of projects and programs.
In other matters Monday night, the council appropriated $100,000 in emergency funding out of the riverboat gaming contingency fund for the county health department to avoid finishing the year in the red. Health coordinator Tony Combs said the department needs the funding because it has not yet received its fall tax settlement.
The council appointed William T. (Bill) Nichols to the Harrison County Lifelong Learning board.
Homestead credit deadline nearing
Harrison County Auditor Pat Wolfe said anyone still needing to file their Homestead credit line must do so by Tuesday, Jan. 5. No exceptions will be allowed after the deadline.
Wolfe said it is important to file to receive the full benefit on tax bills.
‘People will be really upset if they don’t,’ she said.

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