VALPARAISO | An official with the state agency responsible for auditing all government units in Indiana could not say last week whether the Porter County Council has the legal right to break with tradition and spend local income tax revenue without the support of the county commissioners.
The recent change in state law that at least some council members are interpreting as giving them exclusive power to transfer the revenue, does not identify which local board has that authority, said Tammy White, county office supervisor at the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
"We can't interpret it for them," she said. "That's the job of the county attorney."
White said the rest of the state law on this subject supports the county's current approach of the commissioners proposing a use for the income tax revenue and then the council voting it up or down.
Porter County Commissioner John Evans, R-North, has threatened to take the county council to court if it attempts to spend the income tax revenue without his office first making a proposal.
Porter County Councilman Jim Biggs, R-1st, said the issue boils down to a belief by himself and others that the council, as the county's fiscal body, should manage all tax dollars.
The current approach involving the commissioners is like two or three people managing a checking account, he said.
While Evans has said the cooperative approach provides a check and balance, Biggs said the council has the responsibility of handling much larger amounts of property tax revenue on its own. The seven elected members of the council provide the checks and balances, he said.
Biggs and Evans were among those who agreed during last week's council meeting to take a stab at working out their differences before the dispute over the income tax revenue continues to escalate.
Some council members argued last week the commissioners are sitting on millions in unspent income tax revenue. But Evans told them the money, which was approved by the council, is designated for various uses.
"You want to reallocate allocated funds - that's not permissable," he said during last week's debate over a $60,000 funding request by the city of Portage for police in the schools.
"It's not allocated to a project, it's allocated to a fund," he said.
The pressure is on county officials to come up with funding for big tickets items including round-the-clock medical service at the jail, the opening of the third pod at the jail and long-term funding for E911 at a time when property tax revenue is no longer covering all the bills.