Lake County's new study showing it is one of the most frugal county governments in the state looks good on paper, but remember, this is looking at what the study identifies as core services and doesn't discuss other important issues, like public transportation, that are not universal across Hoosier counties.
County Commissioner Gerry Scheub said county officials should be congratulated for cutting spending by $46 per person over the last five years. Former Lake County Council member Larry Blanchard, now an aide to the county commissioners, did the study.
Blanchard said at $213.50 in tax money per person, Lake County is now 15th lowest in the state by that measure. That compares to $359 per person in LaPorte County and $228.84 per person in Porter County. The median is $264.79.
Lake County officials are sending this study to the governor's office and to all state lawmakers to try to convince them that the cost of local government in Lake County isn't as high as they think.
That perception, combined with Lake County's refusal to enact an income tax, has led to sanctions against Lake County, including a frozen property tax levy -- something no other Hoosier county has -- and the threat of withholding future state funding for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority.
The pressure of property tax caps and the frozen tax levy have served their intended purpose. As the study shows, Lake County has cut more than $21 million from its budget since 2007.
While the study is being used to make the case for ending state sanctions against Lake County for not enacting an income tax, unmet needs -- including regional transportation -- still need to be addressed. And don't forget Lake County borrowed $15 million to stay afloat.
Lake County is the only Hoosier county that has yet to adopt an income tax. As the borrowing shows, the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested.
Like it or not, Lake County will need to enact an income tax that distributes the proceeds fairly and that allows the county to provide for all its citizens, including those who need a bus to travel from place to place within the county.