CROWN POINT | Lake County Council members insisted Thursday a local option income tax can't lift county government out of the anticipated $15 million hole next year.
Council members are confronting their 2013 budget in a challenging environment caused by a drop in property tax collections and escalating costs in health care insurance, and operating the Lake County Jail under a U.S. Department of Justice consent agreement that is forcing them to hire 18 more corrections officers.
They expressed frustration at state and local advocates of an income tax on county residents and workers. "Why should the working man have to pay more so businesses pay less?" Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, said after a workshop council meeting. Lake is the only county in the state without a local income tax.
Dante Rondelli, the council's fiscal adviser, replied, "The income tax is not a solution in and of itself. There would still be a deficit."
The council's first job will be to roll back a wish list of other officials' spending suggestions that tops $134.6 million, which is $25.6 million more than this year's spending goals.
Rondelli said even after that action, the council's situation is so absurd it would require the county to also close down its administrative offices, such as county auditor, treasurer, recorder and all discretionary spending such as parks and recreation and new spending on county roads and bridges to avoid a deficit.
"The Department of Justice, public safety and health insurance own your budget," Rondelli said, adding the county's options are a new tax, more spending cuts or to borrow.
Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, D-Gary, said, "You can't cut staff; we have stripped them down to nearly zero."
Councilman Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said he is prepared to cut the courts and public safety spending. "There are no sacred cows," he said.