Council sets special meeting for Sept. 9, looks to vote on local income tax increase a week later

At Bloomington city council’s regular Wednesday meeting, president Steve Volan called a special meeting for next week, on Sept. 9, to consider a quarter-point increase to the local income tax across Monroe County.

The special meeting was scheduled at the request of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, who wants the council to vote by Sept. 16.

Depending on the form of the legislation that’s put in front of the city council on Sept. 9, the nine-member group could vote the same night to impose the quarter-point income tax increase.

The intent appears to be: Wait until Sept. 16 for a vote on enactment of the tax. But if the proposal is introduced on Sept. 9 as a resolution, instead of an ordinance, a vote could be taken that same day, without any exceptional action by the council. [Added at 1:45 p.m. Sept 3, 2020: According to city council attorney, Stephen Lucas, the public hearing associated with the vote has to be noticed 10 days in advance. So the vote could not be taken, unless public notice of a hearing were given 10 days earlier.]

An increase of 0.25 points would generate around $8 million annually across the county, of which about $4 million would go to Bloomington.

What would the tax pay for?

Dating back a couple of years, one push for increasing the county income tax has come from advocates looking to expand public transit. When Hamilton suggested a 0.5-point local income tax increase on New Year’s Day this year, funding for public transit was a prominent part of the mix. Hamilton’s State of the City address in late February sketched out the possibility of increasing Bloomington Transit’s budget by 40 percent.

Increasing BT’s budget by 40-percent works out in round numbers to the better part of $4 million, or about half of the amount that the 0.5-point increase would have generated.

Public transportation no longer appears to a significant part of the mix for the 0.25-point proposal, an adjustment that came from the mayor in mid-July.

During public commentary at Wednesday’s meeting, pedestrian and public transit advocate Greg Alexander asked that the revenue from increased local income tax revenues be put towards public transit and sidewalks.

Alexander told the council to “make clear that you’re focusing the new income tax on transportation, specifically on the bus system—and gosh wouldn’t be nice if it was a little bit for sidewalks, too.” Alexander added, “Because transportation is a key, uncontroversial function of government.”

Alexander wrapped up by saying, “I just urge you to make it really clear what you want to spend the money on. And please spend the money on bike, pedestrian, bus—especially bus transport.” Continue reading “Council sets special meeting for Sept. 9, looks to vote on local income tax increase a week later”

On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments

A committee of the Monroe County tax council voted Tuesday morning against a recommendation to allocate $353,700 of public safety income tax money to support requests made by four rural fire departments in the county.

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Screenshot of the Aug. 4 meeting of the PS-LIT committee of the local income tax council of Monroe County. It was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform.

The potential direct allocation of funds to the fire departments would have made up about 4.5 percent of the $7.8 million that the committee was using as a conservative estimate for the total amount it could allocate for 2021.

The distribution of local income tax revenues for 2021 is based on 2019 income tax filings, which have been delayed because of relaxed deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote on the seven-member PS-LIT (public safety local income tax) committee was 2–5 for the direct allocation of the funds to the Monroe County Fire Protection District, and fire departments serving Richland, Bean Blossom, and Benton townships.

The tally flipped to 5–2 for the committee’s vote on its recommended allocations for 2021 public safety income tax revenue.

The dispatch center—which is a public safety answering point (PSAP)—is recommended to receive its requested budget of $2,247,490.

The remaining amount is recommended to be divided, through a property-tax-footprint-based formula, among Bloomington, Monroe County, Ellettsville and Stinesville. In round numbers, that works out to about $2.8 million for Bloomington, $2.5 million for Monroe County government, $165,000 for Ellettsville and $1,100 for Stinesville. Continue reading “On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments”

Voting shares for local income tax question get late-session tweak by state legislators, impact on Bloomington-Monroe County climate action debate unclear

Late Wednesday, Indiana state legislators worked to hash through some wording of a new law, which has a description that appears unremarkable on the list of this session’s bills: “HB 1065: Various tax matters.”

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The grab-bag nature of the legislation is revealed by its synopsis, which runs nearly 1,000 words. That made for some complicated politics.

In the Senate it passed 31–18. In the House the tally was 52-40. So now the final version of the bill goes to the governor’s desk.

HB 1065 was important locally, because Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, proposed on New Year’s Day that the local income tax for all Monroe County residents should be increased, to pay for climate action initiatives.

The mayor’s proposal has prompted community-wide debate, not just about what to spend the money on, but also whether the state’s statute on local income tax is fair.

From the perspective of those who object to some of the inequities in the local income tax statute, HB 1065 is an improvement.

But some are hoping legislators in next year’s session will take a more aggressive approach, and allow a city to enact its own separate tax, just on the city, not the whole county. Currently all local income taxes in the state of Indiana are countywide. Continue reading “Voting shares for local income tax question get late-session tweak by state legislators, impact on Bloomington-Monroe County climate action debate unclear”