(La Porte County, IN) - The La Porte County Auditor is advising local purse string holders to wait before deciding the proposed increase in the local income tax.
A study comparing the salaries of La Porte County government employees to other government workers in the area has been ordered. The La Porte County Council approved the funding of the study on March 28.
The council wants to determine the need for raising salaries and by how much in helping to decide whether to go along with a .05-percent income tax hike for public safety. The council could take a vote at a special meeting on April 11 at 5:30 p.m.
Auditor Tim Stabosz suggested council members wait until the study is completed and do other research to help with their decision since the deadline to adopt an increase in the local income tax isn't until October 31.
“As the CFO of La Porte County, my advice to the Council is to wait for the results of the salary study, conduct an efficiency study, analyze future capital needs, hold workshops, and not take lightly an increase in the county income tax rate, that has not been adequately analyzed, and seems based more on the fact that our current rate is “too low.” The deadline for voting to implement the LIT for next year is October 31st. Why rush it? One thing is for sure, once a tax increase is in place, it is not likely to be taken away,” he said.
Low salaries causing high job turnover in public safety positions like police officers and paramedics were among the arguments for raising the income tax to provide a steady stream of income to raise salaries and keep them competitive.
Stabosz also said accelerating discussion about raising the tax was the City of La Porte spending more on raises this year than the amount of new money the city had coming in from property taxes.
The City of La Porte “broke the bank,” in a manner of speaking. It budgeted for $1.5 million in raises for 2022, when it only expected to collect roughly $500,000 in “new” property tax money. In giving raises it couldn’t afford, the city set itself up for an unsustainable situation,” he said.
Stabosz also said the city, including Mayor Tom Dermody, in “gearing up to sell the solution to its problem” began a lobbying effort that’s become a for and against political struggle that might result in the best decision not being made.
“My concern is that a political football has been created, and some may be supporting a LIT increase out of fear of political retribution. For anyone counting heads on the Council, a runaway freight train seems to have taken hold, and it just doesn’t seem right. In my opinion, the citizens of LaPorte County are being shortchanged,” he said.
Stabosz said a previous county-wide salary study in 2016 suggested the typical county employee may only need a 5-7% raise. He said that would cost $1.75-2.50 million annually but the proposed tax hike would raise $6.7 million annually.
A higher tax would fund other public safety needs in areas like equipment and construction of facilities like a jail.
“Our low income tax rate is a point of pride for LaPorte County. Does it need to go up some? Possibly. But to increase it over 50%, without a specific plan on what the county will do with the $6.7 million raised, represents an undisciplined “tax and spend” policy," he said.
"Moreover, it is worth noting that our second tranche of $10.7 million in ARP money will arrive next month, which can easily tide the county over for a while longer, while this situation is carefully studied,” Stabosz said.