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Public safety tax off the table for now

Any changes to the county’s tax code will have to wait, for now. A public hearing to establish a public safety tax was canceled before Monday night’s Harrison County Council meeting.
The council was considering replacing its economic developing income tax, or EDIT, with a public safety tax. The change would have been set at the same rate, offsetting what property owners pay.
However, the change would have allowed the county to spend the revenue from the public safety tax on different areas of county business.
‘We’ve been meeting for the budget, and it was voted to cancel that hearing and defer a decision on that until next year,’ said council president Gary Davis, who is not seeking re-election and won’t be on the council beginning in 2019.
The EDIT has been used to pay back bonds that the county took out to build the Harrison County Justice Center.
Davis said by the time the Justice Center was paid off, state lawmakers decided EDIT could be used for any county expense, and the county could take the revenue and put it into the county’s general fund.
Then, the state changed that and the county doesn’t have enough tax revenue to fund the county’s general fund, according to Davis.
‘As our revenue has grown, that shortfall has grown even more,’ Davis said. ‘So, we use money from our county fund and Community Foundation to help balance the budget. The alternative to doing that is to raise income tax, which nobody on the council wants to do.’
EDIT does not have enough revenue to budget the sheriff’s department, according to Davis.
Councilmen Gary Byrne and Kyle Nix each wanted the decision to cancel the hearing to be done during the council’s regularly scheduled meeting Monday night.
Byrne said the council did nothing wrong or illegal; however, he said he wished the council would have canceled the hearing during Monday’s meeting.
‘The vote doesn’t bother me as much, but I wish we would have done it in here,’ Nix said. ‘So that way it was in a setting. I know our (budget) hearing meetings are public, but it was slated to be discussed tonight as a topic. I wish we would have denied that discussion in this meeting.’
The council has met several times during the last month to plan next year’s budget. While those meetings are public, the county council has chosen not to record them.
‘I had no idea it was even being discussed to not have the hearing,’ Byrne said. ‘Majority rules; I have no problem with that, but I do think it’s wrong to do that in a nobody-is-sitting-out-here meeting.’
Minutes from the budget meetings, which began on Aug. 21, have not yet been made available by the Harrison County Auditor’s office.
Byrne said he was disappointed that the four councilmembers decided to cancel the hearing because leading up to it many of them were saying they wanted to know more about the current economic development tax and the public safety tax.
‘That’s what this public hearing was going to be, was to get more information,’ Byrne said.
A brief discussion also took place about the possible change from an EDIT to a public safety tax and the impact towns would have on the revenue they receive. The council said the towns would still get their portion of the revenue if the economic development tax was replaced.
In other county business, five members of the council approved spending $1,074,675 out of riverboat to do the engineering and design work on the final phase, tabbed as phase 2-B, of the Lanesville connector road. Nix abstained from the decision, and Byrne voted against.
Byrne said he voted against the decision due to concerns the county riverboat fund doesn’t have enough money to fund the work and other approved projects the council has appropriated riverboat funds toward.
‘The other issue of this project is the property people are having to give up,’ Byrne said. ‘A lot of them is not wanting to do it.’
Part of the work on the road that will allow motorists to bypass Georgetown by taking Interstate 64 includes a utility reimbursement agreement with Ramsey Water Co. Inc.
Kevin Russel, Harrison County’s engineer, said the water company had more expenses than what the agreement called for and told the council it might ask the county to help cover the expenses.
The last phase of the road is roughly seven-tenths of a mile, plus some work to connect the new road to S.R. 64 west of Georgetown, Russel said.
The council’s next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, moved from Monday, Oct. 8, because of Columbus Day.