Chesterton Tribune

 
 

County attorney renders opinion that council cannot control CEDIT funds

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

While an informal pact was made at last week’s Porter County Council meeting for its members, along with the Board of Commissioners, to set aside their differences in the disputed 2013 County budget matters, the Commissioners asked their attorney Elizabeth Knight to offer her opinion about a specific point of contention.

Some of the Council members who voted on a budget passing up an offer by the Commissioners to use $2.5 million in county economic development income tax (CEDIT) have alluded to proposing a measure that would call for the Council to have complete control of the County’s CEDIT funds without the consent of the Commissioners. Use of unallocated CEDIT money is crucial to creating a revenue source for items like hiring more jail staff to handle overcrowding and funding the E-911 Communications Center when property taxes are no longer bringing in the needed amount of revenue, they argued.

As County Commissioner President John Evans, R-North, explained Tuesday, the way CEDIT funding works is the Commissioners write up a designation or plan to use the money and the County Council decides whether or not to appropriate the funds, a custom he said is followed in all of Indiana’s 92 counties.

But new wording in a state law regarding CEDIT transfers this past year had given some Council members the impression a county’s fiscal body has the statutory authority to move CEDIT monies into funds of their choosing. Evans did not agree and had said if the Council were to pass such a measure, he would file a suit to challenge it in court.

“They want to write their own rules but don’t want to play by the ones that exist,” said Evans.

While officials at the state level have said the statute can be interpreted by the county attorney, Evans on Tuesday asked for Knight to share her reading of the law.

Knight said she has discussed with the Council’s attorney Scott McClure what they believe to be the statute in question, IC 6-3.5-7-12.7, which states: “A county, city, or town may at any time, by ordinance or resolution, transfer to: (1) its general fund; or (2) other appropriated funds of the county, city, or town; money that has been deposited in the economic development income tax fund established by the county, city, or town.”

In her “preliminary” legal opinion, Knight sided with the Commissioners’ argument because the law does not name either the county fiscal body or the executive body as having the sole responsibility of CEDIT transfers. Had it meant to give the responsibility to either board, it would have clearly stated so, she said. To her, the mention of “county” in the statute means the Council and Commissioners are both involved where the Commissioners write the project and the Council votes on the funding, which is what many other parts of the CEDIT law infer.

Knight said she hopes to come to an agreement with McClure and get a resolution to prevent the matter from ending up in court. She said having the County’s two highest bodies in a court dispute can be greatly “disruptive” for county departments and the taxpayers.

McClure could not be reached for further comment by deadline Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Evans took a step toward getting the funding discussions back on track by asking the Council to come up with a dollar amount in CEDIT they want to work with and a basis in fact to support their request.

“We need to have a mutual agreement,” he said.

 

Posted 12/5/2012