MARC CHASE: More county borrowing would add insult to tax injury

2013-05-28T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: More county borrowing would add insult to tax injuryBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

By now, most of us are aware Lake County leaders voted to siphon a 1.5 percent tax off residents' paychecks. County and municipal government officials largely are celebrating the $18 million windfall this new tax -- and the thawing of a local property tax freeze by the state -- will provide next year alone. The lovers of big government and patronage jobs just hit the lottery.

But wait. The celebration is tempered for now as local government won't see this cash until 2014. The poor, burdened leaders of county government also stand to lose $1 million next year in canceled inheritance tax revenues and must come up with another $2 million in contributions in 2014 for the rising cost of health and pension benefits for the legion of nearly 1,700 full-time employees holding up the Lake County Government Center roof.

The unfortunate -- but likely -- recipe county leaders could cook up in response is more borrowing, adding to the $121 million in longterm debt Lake County has taken on in the past eight years.

That's right, taxpayers of Lake County. To bridge the gap and sustain the flesh filling in the plus-sized britches of county government until the income tax revenues arrive, county officials very well could take on more debt.

They might get away with it too, hoping to skirt the issue past their constituents as they usually seem to do quite well.

Or they could, of course, do the right thing. They could live within their fiscal means -- as the rest of us must do.

County government has cut hundreds of jobs within recent years, and has made some efforts at austerity. But it's clearly not enough if borrowing millions more -- even with an income tax windfall on the way -- is being considered as a viable option.

It's going to smart for most of us when our paychecks are 1.5 percent lighter. Now the toxic gravy to this very dry meal is potentially more borrowing, further encumbering future generations of taxpayers who had no say in the overindulgence that brought Lake County to this point.

Soon county officials will convene their 2014 budget hearings. Lake County Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, opposed the recent borrowing of $15 million by the county and has vowed to oppose any additional borrowing.

County Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, has suggested using some of the income tax revenue to pay down existing debt, which would be a fantastic token of fiscal responsibility. Cities and towns set to get a cut of the local income tax revenue should do this as well.

The rest of the County Council should join Dernulc and Hamm and make their own vows not to insult the taxpayers -- who will soon be sustaining your fiefdom through a new income tax -- by encumbering those same taxpayers with more debt.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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