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 Saunders Meeting Well Attended

January 16, 2008 - More than 30 area residents and local government officials attended the January 7 town hall meeting hosted by State Representative Tom Saunders (R-Dist. 54) at the Sunset Park shelter house in Knightstown.

Two topics dominated the discussion: property tax reform and proposals for streamlining local government.

Saunders said lawmakers would likely consider two main plans regarding property taxes - the governor's plan and one put together by Farm Bureau. Saying he believes some sort of compromise will be worked out between the two, Saunders said he would not vote for either proposal as currently written.

"My concern is … we're going to do something drastic," Saunders said. "But I'm not convinced it's going to be the right thing," Saunders said.

Knightstown resident Bill Bergmann asked Saunders why he would support raising the sales tax as opposed to income taxes. "I would suspect that most of us in here are retired and lower income," Bergmann said. "Sales tax hits the poor people. Income tax hits the people who are making money."

"The polling data shows that the public will accept an increase in sales tax," Saunders answered. "But they're not too crazy about an increase in the income tax."

"What are you doing about spending?" Greensboro Township resident Mike Detering asked Saunders. "That's what's so ridiculous about this whole thing. We wouldn't be in this spot we're in if you guys would get a handle on that. … It's our money you're spending, and nobody seems to get that."

"There's some wasteful spending out there," Saunders acknowledged. "But there's not six billion dollar's worth of wasteful spending."

"When my checkbook runs out of money, I'm in same boat as everybody else in this room," Bergmann said a little later. "When the checkbook says zero, we quit spending. … But that's not the mentality at the statehouse. It's other people's money."

Wayne Township resident Jamie Maxwell took issue with the state's switch to assessing property values based on fair-market value. "How can someone say what your property or somebody else's property is worth?" Maxwell asked. "With the housing slump nationwide, maybe it's not worth that. If you can't find a buyer and you can't sell it, who's qualified to say what a particular property is worth."

Two Knightstown Town Council members attended last week's meeting. Steve Nelson and Terry Guerin both remarked on the negative impact high property taxes have had on local citizens.

"People in Indiana are suffering," Nelson said. "I don't know what other people are saying out of state … but we've got people that can't afford to live in homes anymore and that's not good."

"Your constituents are hurting and they want relief," Guerin told Saunders later in the meeting. "And, unfortunately, they want relief this session, which is not going to be an easy task to do."

Guerin said he thought the governor's property tax proposal was a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and asked Saunders to urge lawmakers to look closer at proposals for eliminating property taxes. If the taxes are not repealed, Guerin said he would like Saunders to support an exemption for one's primary residence.

A proposal to streamline county government by replacing counties' three commissioners with a single chief executive drew criticism from Henry County Commissioner Phil Estridge.

"If you go to one CEO, my personal opinion is that you're not going to get out of one CEO what you get out of three commissioners," Estridge said. "There are issues in each district - drainage, roads, whatever it may be - and we all try to take care of those within our own district." With each commissioner making about $20,000 a year, Estridge also said he thought the annual cost of replacing them with a county executive and needed support staff could run higher than $60,000.

Saunders explained that this is a short legislative session, scheduled to end March 14. "If you take the weekends and committee days out of the picture, you've got 30 working days," he said. "That's an awful lot to do in 30 days."


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