Chesterton Tribune

 
 

State House passes Soliday bill to clarify authority over CEDIT spending

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said his bill to bring clarity to the roles of a county’s executive and fiscal bodies when it comes to the economic development income tax passed the Indiana House of Representatives with a 97-0 vote on Monday.

House Bill 1077 clarifies earlier legislation of how counties or municipalities can authorize and use CEDIT funds, removing doubt that a fiscal body cannot allocate or transfer CEDIT without consent of the executive body.

In other words, the Porter County Council has to work with the Board of Commissioners; the Commissioners may propose a project for CEDIT fund use and the Council decides whether to fund the proposal.

The bill is will be heard by the Indiana Senate, Soliday said. He is confident the bill will make it to the governor’s desk given its strong bipartisan support. Those who have also helped champion the bill include state Sens. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, and Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.

Soliday said he introduced the bill to head off any chance of a legal battle between the Council and the Commissioner boards. Some Council members questioned if the previous law gave them authority to transfer CEDIT monies to the County’s general fund on their own.

Soliday said the intent of the CEDIT law has always been to provide a system of checks and balances.

“It didn’t make sense for both sides to pay for a lawsuit,” he said.

Council President Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, said it was not the Council’s intention to challenge the law.

“We never tried to sue anybody. Our intention has always been we have priorities and we plan on funding those priorities,” Rivas said.

The issue of using CEDIT for general operations has not come up prior to this year, but the Council has learned that its property tax revenues had dropped considerably, by about $10 million, due to the state’s tax caps while expenses to run government have gone up.

“We never had to use (CEDIT) to govern, but the time has come to fund our basic operations off our income tax,” Rivas said.

Challenges hanging over the heads of County officials include a way to open and staff the third pod at the Porter County Jail and a $2 million gap in the budget for Enhanced 911, Rivas said.

A bill has been introduced in the Indiana Statehouse that would allow counties to raise CEDIT taxes by one percent for funding E-911 centers, but Rivas said he is adamant that as Council president he would never call for an increase in taxes.

He added that he has heard from lawmakers that funding from the state level would come for E-911 but he “hasn’t seen anything yet.”

Since the start of this year, communication between the Commissioners and Council has improved and both have agreed that CEDIT will need to be prioritized.

Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, said he has agreed to write a whole new plan for CEDIT with priorities in mind but he hopes there will be some left over to use for other things such as road projects and drainage improvements. He said miscellaneous revenues that have been dormant will be utilized.

He and fellow Commissioner Laura Shurr Blaney, D-South, both applauded the state for supporting HB 1077.

“I’m so glad it is being clarified and quickly before it costs us in a lawsuit,” Blaney said.

Evans added that it is clear in state lawmaker’s minds the statute had the powers of the two boards defined.

“Obviously, nobody saw it as an issue,” Evans said and added that he hopes the Council will do their job as the statute dictates.

Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, said he is in support of bills that define checks and balances regarding local government but made a case for taking care of priorities first. “I also support the ideology that county government should first spend its available resources on those things which we are statutorily responsible for maintaining and lastly on those matters which we are not,” he said.

Rivas said discussions will continue. “The bill confirmed that there had to be cooperation and we plan on having that cooperation with the Commissioners,” he said.

 

 

Posted 1/30/2013