CROWN POINT | The Lake County Council is preparing to take its first vote this month on adopting as much as a 1.5 percent personal income tax on residents and workers to bail local government out of either cutting services or increasing debt.
The seven-member council will begin discussing the politically incendiary subject Thursday morning at its workshop meeting and could take the first of several votes at its 10 a.m. regular meeting Tuesday in the Lake County Government Complex auditorium.
Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said Wednesday, "This is not a cure all. We are in a position where we cannot completely cut our way out and we cannot tax our way out of the situation we are in."
Lake is the only county in the state that hasn't adopted a local income tax and is being punished for its refusal by the General Assembly, which has frozen the total amount of property taxes, called a levy, collected annually since 2007.
Lake County officials previously have opposed such an income tax as unfair to working people because business income is exempt.
They can no longer stand aloof.
Lake's county, municipal and township government units have lost tens of millions of dollars in recent years not only to the freeze on Lake County's property tax levy, but also because of a separate statewide law that reduces the amount of taxes that can be extracted from any single property.
Bilski said county government has been forced to shed about 350 jobs from its payroll, and the council was still forced this year to borrow $15 million to afford an increased corrections and medical staff the U.S. Department of Justice said is needed to improve inmate health care and safety.
They also are trying to find money to repair county highway bridges, roads and drainage ditches and county buildings, including the jail. The county also is facing millions of dollars in new spending to operate a new countywide E-911 police and fire communications network.
The council is expected to give details today on how many millions of dollars an income tax would generate. Recent estimates indicate it could be anywhere from $90 million to $94 million to all county, township, city and town government agencies in the first year.
Bilski said he expects the council to dedicate most of the money to lowering property tax bills. The rest would be dedicated to public safety services.
He said even with a tax, the county will be forced to make further spending cuts.
The council attempted to pass an income tax in 2007, but the commissioners vetoed it. The Lake County Council couldn't muster a supermajority to override the veto.
Lake County Commissioners Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, and Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said Wednesday they cannot support a income tax.
If commissioners veto it, the council would have to find at least five votes to override in order to enact the tax.