INDIANAPOLIS | The decision on whether the Lake County property tax levy freeze is lifted, even if the county doesn't enact an income tax, is now in the hands of state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.
The Indiana House voted 97-0 Thursday for Senate Bill 585, which deletes a state law limiting revenue for all local governments in Lake County, also known as their levies, to their 2007 amounts until the county imposes at least a 1 percent income tax.
Charbonneau is Senate-sponsor of the measure and must decide whether to agree with that provision added Wednesday by the House after state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said the state shouldn't dictate to local governments which taxes they should assess.
If Charbonneau consents to the change, the measure will be re-approved by the Senate and then go the governor for his signature or veto.
Or he could send the legislation to a House-Senate conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers will devise a compromise version that must be re-approved by the House and Senate to go to the governor.
"I have not seen the final version of what's coming out of there (the House), so it's a little bit premature for me to conclude one way or the other," Charbonneau said. "I'm going to approach it with an open mind, take a look at it, talk to people and decide what the best course of action is."
Removing the levy freeze would add about $0.04 in annual taxes per $100 in property valuation starting in 2014. Local governments would not get any money to make up for the years their levies were frozen.
Property owners already paying the maximum property tax under the state's constitutional tax caps would see no increases.
The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates the property tax levies for all governments in Lake County would increase by $9.8 million next year without the levy freeze.
But $6 million of that increase would hit homeowners at the caps, resulting in just $3.8 million in new revenue, according to LSA.
Separately, the Lake County Council is set to vote to impose a 1.5 percent local income tax, which would remove the levy freeze automatically.
Slager said he still wants the Legislature to eliminate the levy freeze in case the County Council fails to pass the income tax.
In addition to the tax issues, the legislation restructures the Gary airport board by requiring board members have at least five years experience in business, economic development or aviation. The board member appointed by the governor would chair the new board.
It also provides for studies of the need for a second Lake Michigan port and trauma hospital in Gary, shifts nearly $5 million from the Gary Sanitary District to the City of Gary and requires a review of whether the Port of Indiana should pay Portage for municipal services.