2007 Boone County Candidates
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Roger Neal supports fiscal restraint to protect families and is the right choice for Lebanon Mayor on November 6.
Welfare for real estate developers is apparently the number one agenda item for candidates John Lasley and George Piper. They want to increase the utility and tax bills of Lebanonís families to help developers complete their urban sprawl plans.
My utility bill water and sewer charges this year average $69.91 a month, which is a 48% increase from the $47.11 that I paid in 2004. This increase is primarily due to water and sewer extensions and improvements to accommodate the disorderly residential construction supported by John and George in all quadrants of the city. John and George want to increase my utility bills even more by expanding the city boundary southward. Roger does not feel city expansion is a current priority; he thinks cleaning up the city and repairing sidewalks and curbs are more important.
My property tax payments to the city have increased from $304.82 in 2004, to $325.84 in 2005, and $331.51 in 2006. This 8.75% increase, which is 1.25 times inflation, contradicts Johnís implication in the candidates forum that property taxes are decreasing.
John and George think business tax abatements are important for economic development. Roger thinks abatements need to be reeled in; a position that makes sense to me because more distribution centers are the only businesses that Lebanon will likely attract in the foreseeable future.
Roger does not think spending $150,000 for the impact fee study supported by John and George is prudent considering the current housing slump.
Roger also thinks the housing slump makes a city plan director unnecessary. Of course, John and George want to spend $51,000 for a plan director to help their developer cronies.
John voted for, and George editorialized for, Lebanonís food and beverage tax. John voted to earmark revenue from this onerous tax on meals purchased by Lebanon and Boone County families for a nice-to-have parking lot and walking path next to a youth football field. George would like family meals tax revenue go to a trails system as part of his economic development scheme. Roger thinks the family meals tax should be done away with when it is due to expire in 2008.
Roger Neal will provide the fiscal restraint needed to protect Lebanonís families from the ever-increasing utility and tax bills sought by the misguided supporters of real estate developers.
Lebanon mayor candidates need to take the Taxpayer Friendly position of allowing the sunset provision in city ordinance 05-14 end the onerous Family Meals Tax.
On September 29, 2005, the Lebanon City Council imposed a new 1% sales tax effective November 1, 2005, on food and beverages sold in Lebanon restaurants. City ordinance no. 05-14 authorized this new tax and included the "sunset" termination of Lebanon's food and beverage tax on or after October 31, 2008.
As detailed on the Watchdog Lebanon web page http://www.finplaneducation.net/family_meals_tax.htm, this food and beverage tax is really a Family Meals Tax that is mostly paid by Lebanon and Boone County families. Only a small portion of the Family Meals Tax is paid by out-of-state restaurant patrons.
The Family Meals Tax is extremely regressive and hits low-income Boone County residents hardest. It excessively taxes a basic necessity of life that everyone, regardless of income, must find some way to include in their budget. The percentage of household income used to purchase prepared food away from home increases as household income decreases.
Some have called the Family Meals Tax a voluntary tax. Eating food prepared outside the home has become a necessity for most families who work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. According to the President of the Restaurant & Hospitality Association of Indiana, 25% of food dollars were spent dining out in 1955 compared to 47% in 2005. It is obvious that the luxury of eating out in 1955 has become today's necessity. The Family Meals Tax costs the typical family of four more than $42 a year, making it harder to pay bills and save for the future.
It has been suggested that imposing the Family Meals Tax will help keep property taxes from increasing. Recent developments show this is nonsense.
Lebanon City Council recently spent more than $70,000 of Family Meals Tax revenue to pave a parking lot and walking path for the youth football field at Abner Longley Park. This nice-to-have, level-2 project was completed ahead of several level-1 projects in the 5-year master plan for the Lebanon Parks Department. The low-priority parking lot and walking path does not rise to the level of importance to be built using property tax revenue. Therefore, the unwise $70,000 expenditure of Family Meals Tax revenue will in no way offset any property tax.
Unless the Family Meals Tax is allowed to end on October 31, 2008, Lebanon City Council will continue to collect the maximum property tax allowed by Indiana's General Assembly while using the Family Meals Tax to provide nice-to-have spending that is the local equivalent of federal earmarks.
Listed next is the unedited position provided by each 2007 Lebanon Mayor candidate regarding the termination of Lebanon's Family Meals Tax on or after October 31, 2008, in accordance with the "sunset" provision in city ordinance no. 05-14.
John Lasley Position:
DID NOT RESPOND. Each candidate was informed nine days ago that a failure to respond will be an indication that he favors continuing the Family Meals Tax indefinitely without change.
Roger Neal Position:
We don't need more sources of revenue. We need less. Local government and the state need to practice prudent spending and less of it. The food & beverage tax is due to expire in 2008. When that time comes, we need to do away with it. Sure, it's a nice slush fund for projects but we need to pull that money out of the regular budget. History has shown that our political leaders (even at the local level) tend to use new sources of revenue simply for additional spending rather than use it to lower existing taxes elsewhere.
The paving of the parking lot at Abner Longley Park is an excellent example of this. It may have been a nice thing to do but the project was simply not a priority. This is further evidenced by the fact that the Parks Dept. 5 Year Master Plan listed the project as a low level priority. However, the city council never consulted the Park Board about this project. They did have a copy of the Park Master Plan but obviously didn't bother to look at it or ignored it altogether. Meanwhile, the Parks Dept. budget will be short this year due to severe cuts by the council. To offset this shortage, the current Clerk - Treasurer has taken money out of the Children's Programs Fund ( not funded by tax dollars) and created a "park operating fund" to pay for expenses normally taken out of the regular budget. This is very irresponsible not to mention illegal. The Children's Programs Fund is by law, a "non-reverting fund". Under Indiana law, a non-reverting fund can only be used for its original purpose as outlined by the ordinance that created it. The funds can only be used for "other purposes" if the council does an additional ordinance that abolishes the fund entirely. Just one of many examples of how the Clerk and the Council choose to enforce ordinances and state laws on a selective basis.
The food & beverage tax is an additional burden on local residents. If we truly need it, then perhaps we could replace it by increasing the hotel tax instead. That would take the burden off local residents. At all levels of government, we need to get the spending habits of politicians under control. Until then, all Americans are simply going to have to lower their standard of living. If the other candidates are truly fiscal conservatives and interested in saving the taxpayers money, their answers should be similar if not the same.
George Piper Position:
The food and beverage sales tax as set up by the city was not designed to lower property taxes, but instead serve as a funding stream for unbudgeted projects in a given year. But I can see where one can argue that it effectively does lower property taxes since the city is spending money that does not comes from funds raised via property taxes.
Under the stateís current rules, it is difficult for a city to raise its property tax levy, even if the reason is to bolster services. Cities are forced to find alternative revenue streams outside of the property tax levy. Whatís nice about the food and beverage tax is that is does NOT get lost in the general fund. The city puts it in a separate fund and allocates dollars to specific projects.
While one can argue the merits of the importance of the Abner Longley Park walking path and parking lot earlier this year which required $70,000 from the fund, I do believe the city may have erred in not allocating dollars for a higher priority in the parkís master plan.
I donít believe the city should sunset this tax in 2008. I do urge the council to consider projects that potentially benefit a majority of residents.
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This page was last updated on 03/19/10.