Lake income tax unlikely to survive expected veto

2013-05-07T15:45:00Z 2013-05-08T13:06:01Z Lake income tax unlikely to survive expected vetoBill Dolan, (219) 662-5328

CROWN POINT | Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid, D-East Chicago, said Tuesday she won't rescue the county income tax if it's vetoed later this week.

The council passed a 1.5 percent personal income tax on all county residents and out-of-state residents working in Lake by a 4-3 margin Monday afternoon.

It now advances to the Board of Commissioners, which meets 8:30 a.m. Friday. If two of the three commissioners — Gerry Scheub, D-Crown Point, and Mike Repay, D-Hammond — follow through with promises to veto the tax package, it would return as early as Tuesday to the council, where it either dies or finds five council members in support.

Cid, one of three no votes against the income tax, said don't expect her to join any supermajority for the tax.

"It's not good for my constituents. I'm not changing unless they all come to me and tell me they want to pay an additional tax and not get any (property) tax relief," Cid said of the tax. "But, I don't see that happening. I just can't vote for that."

Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, said he and Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, aren't changing their opposition to the income tax, either.

Strong said he hopes killing the income tax will force county officials to call in an outside agency to audit county government to search for significant reductions in a county budget that required a $15 million loan this year alone, just to stay in the black.

Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, said he is amused by a rumor he would allow the tax to pass by being unavailable for a veto vote. Repay said he is vacationing out of the country next week but will be present for Friday's veto session and plans to vote against the tax.

"I hope we can dispose of the matter without all the theatrics we've had," Repay said.

The council's Monday afternoon income tax meeting drew more than 200 to the Syd Garner Auditorium at the Lake County Government Complex. They cheered or razzed speakers who bashed the proposed tax, police and fire officials as well as elected officials who supported it as necessary to maintain public safety, and others who floated a variety of offbeat solutions to the county's fiscal crisis.

The tax would raise an estimated $90 million that would be earmarked for Lake County property tax reduction. The council members announced Monday state law required them to amend their original plan giving that relief solely to homeowners; property tax relief now would go to all classes of taxpayers, including businesses that don't pay the income tax.

Eric Krieg, a Munster Republican who ran for surveyor last year, said the council's property tax windfall for corporations explains The Times' editorial support of the tax.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson spoke in favor of an income tax to replace millions of dollars of property taxes the state's circuit-breaker system has taken from her city that are needed to pave streets and provide other needed services.

Some complained the tax would feed big-city north county political patronage, and one man suggested splitting Lake into two counties. St. John Republican Joe Hero said the county should declare bankruptcy. Karin Mason, of Crown Point, suggested replacing property tax with a sales tax, something the council has no authority to do, said Councilman Jerome Prince, D-Gary.

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