Lake officials ready to throw tax proposals under the bus

2012-05-12T19:45:00Z 2012-05-19T12:29:23Z Lake officials ready to throw tax proposals under the busBy Bill Dolan, (219) 662-5328

CROWN POINT | Lake County bus agencies planning an express route to the county government center to collect new taxpayer subsidies are likely to meet a veto roadblock.

Three of seven Lake County Council members said Friday they cannot vote for a tax increase to bail out the Regional Bus Authority. The transit agency has told its employees June 30 will be their last day if pleas for a new local tax or other bailout funds go unheeded.

Daryl Lampkins, general manager of Gary Public Transportation Corp., made a pitch to the council Thursday for additional money to preserve bus service inside Gary and to points south along the U.S. 30 business corridor, northern Crown Point and South Shore commuter stations.

Lampkins reminded council members no bus system he knows of can operate without tax subsidies.

However, three no votes in the council likely would doom any bus tax request because it requires five council votes to overcome a veto that two Lake County commissioners have promised to stop an income tax.

The RBA plans to bus supporters from Hammond to the council meeting Tuesday.

Lake is the only county in the state that has resisted passing a local income tax.

County officials note that even in the unlikely event that such a tax were passed this month, the revenue wouldn't begin flowing immediately and state law would earmark the money to go to other taxing units first.

Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, who must overcome Republican Jerry Tippy to win re-election in the fall, said he cast one of the two votes to kill a 1 percent local income tax that was brewing five years ago and he is prepared to do it again.

Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, declined to take a position on an income tax for public transportation but did note the difficulties of such a proposal.

"I don't think a county income tax could be used for transportation to begin with," Allen said. "The way the law is written, the first 1 percent has to go to property tax replacement credit, and that would unfreeze the levy."

State law has restricted increases in the levy — the total amount of property tax all county taxing units can collect each year. Unfreezing the levy could result in taxes rising by $15 million next year, according to an estimate by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency, although the money must be divided among nearly 60 other government units.

Commissioner Fran DuPey, D-Hammond, said recently, "I support the RBA, and I do think the buses are necessary. I was approached and asked if they have the (four favorable votes) would I just not veto it.

"I will veto it. Since the income tax has come up, each time it's been proposed was for a different need. That just tells me, once you have an income tax, every time someone wants something else, it will just get added on, and it won't stay at 1 percent."

DuPey said it is up to the County Council to pass a tax over a commissioner veto. That would require five of the seven council members.

Council President Jerome Prince, D-Gary, said Thursday, "There is not a lot of interest in passing a tax. He and other council members insist they won't give the matter serious consideration until the overlapping bus services act in concert."

Council members who vowed Friday to vote against a new tax include Mike Repay, D-Hammond, who is running for county commissioner this fall; Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, who is running for the state Legislature this fall; and Dan Dernulc, R-Highland.

Dernulc said, "My constituents of the 4th District (comprising Dyer and much of Munster, Highland, St. John and Schererville) and I think most of Lake County don't want any more taxes. We are tapped out. I agree with them."

Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart said he is keeping an open mind on the subject, but "we want to see the consolidation of public transportation."

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