Option tax a bailout bill for South Bend?

A proposed increase in St. Joseph County’s option income tax today was compared to a county-wide bailout bill for the city of South Bend.

Last night, with a capacity crowd on hand, South Bend’s Common Council passed a proposed increase in the income tax of three quarters of one percent.

Even with the extra revenue, the city is projecting a deficit of $8-million in 2010.

Estimates show the same tax hike would give St. Joseph County government two consecutive years of budget surpluses. The total of 2009 would be $1.4 million, and the total for 2010 is projected to be $2.2 million.

“If you ‘max’ the tax, South Bend is saying they don’t have enough,” said District I St. Joseph County Councilman Mark Root. “If you don’t pass an option income tax at all, Mishawaka says fine, we have enough, and the county is probably somewhere in-between.”

The fate of the income tax increase now rests with the St. Joseph County Council at a meeting scheduled for Monday night.

“We in the county don’t need an income tax in 2009,” said Root, “and it’s not our responsibility to bail out South Bend.”

St. Joseph County Council District E representative Mike Kruk disagrees. “I do live in the city, and I want to make sure that we do have adequate police and fire for my own well being as well as for everybody else,” Kruk said in a telephone interview from Indianapolis where he is attending a conference.

Kruk agrees that the city needs the income tax proceeds more than the county, but he adds, “I think the last two years we’ve cut over $4-million out of our budget, I don’t know how many people are aware of that.” Kruk added, “I know nobody wants to pass any kind of a tax, but I don’t think we want to put people at risk if we have to really cut back on public safety.”

Both council members who spoke with News Center 16 today predicted that the tax would likely pass at Monday’s meeting.

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