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Gary Robinson wore signs to the hearing, leaving no doubt about his opposition to the proposed public safety tax. Photo By Stephanie Ferriell

Contentious hearing ends in compromise

October 02, 2019
Nearly all of those in attendance at a public hearing on a proposed new public safety tax last Tuesday evening agreed on two things: 1. They do value and want paramedic service. 2. They don't want to raise taxes to pay for it.

Originally scheduled to take place in the council meeting room, the hearing was moved to the courtroom to accommodate the crowd. The hearing was only 30 minutes long, meaning those who signed up to speak were kept to a two-minute limit. After many voiced opposition to the short hearing, the council voted to allow further comments during their regular meeting, which immediately followed.

The idea for the public safety tax was first discussed last year during budget proceedings but dropped when a crowd voiced strong opposition. It was included again in this year's budget. Tuesday's crowd spilled out into the hallway despite the fact the hearing began at 5 p.m.

The timing was a sore point and viewed as a way to suppress the working public's opportunity to comment. Robin Hobbs called it "underhanded and unfair.

"It's completely wrong the way it was handled," she said. "There's no way working individuals could come."

Hobbs said she was there on behalf of her family members who were working, or commuting home, and unable to make it to the Judicial Complex.

"This 5 o'clock stuff didn't go over, it didn't go over at all," said Michael Cox. "Voters lost faith."

Gary Robinson said the hearing did not meet the intent of the law regarding hearings on tax increases. "It's a spit in the face to every working man," he said.

Rick Grider also questioned whether all legal obligations had been met. He said taxing units, such as fire districts, are supposed to receive a copy of the proposal beforehand. "They didn't get it," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, this is wrong. ... I think this hearing is illegal."

Barton Cooper expressed appreciation for all law enforcement but said a 5 p.m. hearing didn't accommodate the public. "Why would you do that?" he asked. "Taking our money and disrespecting us?"

Cooper also noted Crawford is the poorest of Indiana's 92 counties and pointed out the population is both declining and aging. "Come to us with something reasonable," he said.

Hobbs said, "Hard-working, upstanding voting citizens who are fueling the economy and paying taxes will leave. ... You need to find another way to do this."

Robert Brown also voiced his belief that people will leave if the tax is enacted. "See who pays taxes then," he said.

Jason Lanning said, "Efficiency is the issue. Everybody in this room in the last 15 years has had to learn to do more with less. All we're asking you to do, instead of reaching into our pockets, is to find ways to minimize."

He criticized the council for not raising the issue six months ago, instead now "trying to shove it down our throats."

Another point of contention with the public is how economic development is now funded. Instead of the county overseeing it, a 501(c)(3) organization was established and the county committed $511,500 for economic development.

"Over $500,000 is gone with no accountability," said Hobbs. "They have control. The public doesn't know what it's spent on. How do you expect us to trust you when you've p------ away $511,000?"

"Economic development has spent over $1 million, but what have they brought in?" asked Cooper.

Randy Gilmore said, "Let's get to the bottom of where the economic development money is."

Jim Schultz said with a 501(c)(3) "you [council] have no control over that money. They're not accountable to us; they're not accountable to you."

Several people mentioned that a public committee was formed during the 2008 budget crisis. The group came up with several ideas that were implemented, resulting in a savings for the county.

Councilman Jerry Brewer asked if the council was in favor of appointing an advisory committee to examine the issue.

"It's not to throw the blame around, to point fingers," he said. "It's to come up with answers. We can't fail. Let's get it done and make it right."

To give the committee time to meet and to allow the council time to redo the 2020 budget, the final adoption was moved to Tuesday, Oct. 29. The budget must be adopted in October.

The advisory committee, which includes both elected officials and members of the public, will meet at 7 p.m. each Tuesday through Oct. 22 in the council meeting room.

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