DOUG ROSS: Will voters buck at paying more bucks?

2013-05-11T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Will voters buck at paying more bucks?Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

Who was the happiest person in Lake County Friday morning? I couldn't reach her by phone to verify this, but I'm pretty sure it was Christine Cid.

The Lake County councilwoman from East Chicago was widely seen as the swing vote, the person who would make or break the income tax. But Commissioner Mike Repay — who campaigned against the income tax — did the swinging for her.

Conventional wisdom said the commissioners would veto the tax on a 2-1 vote, and then Cid would be forced to cast the fifth vote necessary to override the veto.

Why Cid? Because she works for the county treasurer's office.

Under a state law enacted last year, Cid won't be able to hold her job and run for re-election. So Cid could have voted to override the commissioners' veto and not run for re-election, keeping her county job.

She wasn't backed into that corner, though.

Repay said he didn't want the tax, but he didn't want the General Assembly to force the county to adopt an income tax with conditions that were even worse than this one.

Repay, having played the pivotal role in this drama, will be the most politically vulnerable person in this drama. The four council members who voted for the tax Monday will have varying degrees of vulnerability as well.

How certain is it that there will be political retribution? I looked to Porter County, which enacted its first income tax on March 31, 2003, for guidance. It didn't help.

Porter County Councilwoman Karen Conover was on the council when the tax was enacted. 

"It was not a bloodbath," she said. We ran though the names and our hazy memories, then I checked it out. She was right.

Porter County's situation was different from Lake County's, in that the Bethlehem Steel bankruptcy meant Porter County lost its biggest taxpayer. That's something Lake County hasn't faced, knock on wood.

But Lake County was running out of choices. There was speculation that dozens of county police officers would lose their jobs. Why them? Because that's by far the biggest county department, and many other jobs have been shed already.

With the new tax — and only a portion of it goes to fund county government, don't forget — the county hopefully will be able to start thinking strategically instead of lurching from one crisis to the next.

I talked with Chief Deputy Coroner David Pastrick on Friday about the County Council deferring his agency's request for $80,000 to buy new cars. Pastrick said death investigators are still using the cars purchased when he was coroner in 2002. He wants the county to have a fleet replacement program.

That can happen if the county comes up with a strategic plan, rather than splurging.

Just because there's going to be more change in the county's pocket doesn't mean it's time to act like a drunken sailor.

Will the voters make Repay pay for allowing the new tax to be enacted? That remains to be seen. But I do hope they hold all county officials accountable for spending money wisely.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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