Thursday, July 16 2009
Local homestead credit back on in 2010
City Council members Monday night made sure that the firestorm of criticism over the elimination of the local homestead credit won't happen again next year.
As holders of more than 70 percent of the votes on the "county income tax council," to which state law designates responsibility for local homestead credits, council members voted 9-0 to provide the maximum 8 percent credit in 2010.
The Vanderburgh County Council, which holds almost all of the remaining votes, is expected to give its blessing to the credit renewal on July 21. The Darmstadt Town Council holds a small percentage.
But before City Council members could reflect on their vote for 2010, they heard a series of blistering denunciations from residents who helped fill chambers to standing-room-only capacity.
Mixing in warnings that the public does not support the planned Downtown arena and annexation plans, the speakers zeroed in on an unadvertised April 1, 2008, meeting in Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel's office at which city and county officials decided not to renew the 2009 local homestead credit.
Because none of the officials disclosed the decision afterward, the roughly 46,000 residents to whom the homestead credit spelled out more than $5.1 million in tax relief last year did not realize it had been discontinued until they saw the spring installment of this year's property tax bills.
"The actions that this (city) administration and council have taken do not create respect; they create contempt," Mike Sandefur said.
"... I think there is a momentum going, and I think that if you don't give the (2009 local homestead credit) back or if the arena is built, there's going to be a lot of empty seats come up at the next election."
Sandefur's remarks were applauded by about three dozen supporters of United Freedom Makers, a local group backing reinstatement of the 2009 homestead credit, elimination of an annexation initiative and a referendum on arena plans.
Reinstatement of the 2009 local homestead credit does not appear to be in the cards. The relevant state statute requires the local homestead credit be passed by the "county income tax council" by Aug. 1 of the previous year.
The local government officials who eliminated the 2009 homestead credit did have one defender.
"I agree with what you did," said Cathleen Tamez, who said she wasn't endorsing the unadvertised meeting in Weinzapfel's office.
"It's going to be a mistake to reinstate (the local homestead credit), and it's going to cost services, I believe, to the citizens of Evansville," she said.
Vanderburgh County Auditor's Office projections show the city received an extra $3.1 million-plus and the county more than $2.5 million extra this year from county-option income tax that would have paid for the local homestead credit.
City Controller Jenny Collins said Monday night the city's share "does go to fund police and fire."
"It is transferred into the general fund to pay their salaries and so forth."
But Collins also has said part of the money went to pay utilities and fuel costs and monthly electric bills for street lights.
Controller's office data indicates the percentage of city general fund spending devoted to public safety in 2009 has actually dropped by one point from the figure in 2008, when homeowners did receive the local homestead credit.
With the city's extra $3.1 million in county-option income tax proceeds woven into the 2009 budget, more than $59.9 million — 81 percent of the $74.2 million general fund — is earmarked for public safety departments.
But in 2008, a year for which the local homestead credit was renewed, 82 percent of the general fund was public safety spending.
Authorities apparently were concerned about the possibility of dissenters wanting to cause trouble.
In the hours before Monday's 5 p.m. City Council meeting, uniformed officers of the Evansville Police Department were stationed in Weinzapfel's office. The officers said they were working in shifts to provide a deterrent to anyone who might try to create a disturbance in the mayor's office.
Police Chief Brad Hill would not say how long officers were in Weinzapfel's office except to say they were not there all day. Hill also would not comment on reports that undercover officers were used as part of the Police Department's security force at Weinzapfel's arena announcement Monday or the City Council meeting.