The Governor’s “Oh-Oh” Moment In Jackson County

by Curt Kovener Curt line

Last Wednesday Governor Mitch Daniels was in Jackson County to field questions from members of the Jackson and Jennings County newspapers.
On the minds of the Seymour media was the recent announcement that the Seymour State Police Post would be closing and would move to Versailles.
“It’s about getting more troopers on the road. I don’t tell (ISP) Superintendent (Paul) Whitesell what to do and I’m not going to micro manage,” said Daniels. “And I support him on his decision.”
The governor said that the state will be working with Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman on the adjoining state owned properties (police post and former INDOT facilities) to market for retail business.
(I thought: “Seymour sure could use a few more burger & pizza joints.”)
The Brownstown newspaper wanted to discuss school funding and the apparent imminent closing of Freetown Elementary because of it. Brownstown Central Schools must cut around a million dollars from their budget because of state funding shortfalls.
The state’s revenue has failed to meet our expectations and there is not enough money right now, the governor said. “Schools must find ways of saving money. Why are there four school systems here in Jackson County? How much money could be saved if those four systems were headed by a single county school administration?”
(“But you don’t micro-manage,” I thought to myself. State funding is based on three revenue sources: income, sales and excise taxes. And each of those taxes depend on people have jobs. And the jobs have gone away. And so has state funding.)
The Jennings County newspaper editor pointed out that Jennings County school system does have single school administration for the entire county. “And we got a higher per capita cut than surroundings schools,” he told the governor.
Daniels shrugged that he was unaware of the specifics of the Jennings County school funding matter. He did allow that he did not think there would be any more cuts in the future. “At least, I hope not,” he said.
(“It’s good to hear the governor talk of hope,” I thought to myself.)
I shifted the discussion to the recent establishment of seven fire protection districts in the county.
“Your push to eliminate township government caused some fear among some of this county’s rural fire departments. They felt that if township government is dissolved, the county would take over fire protection and they could lose local control, possibly equipment. So seven townships recently gained approval by the county commissioners to establish a new taxing entity with fire protection districts. Because they are wanting new buildings and new equipment, that will mean new, higher property taxes in those townships,” I summarized. “Did you mean for your consolidation plan to result in higher rather than lower property taxes?”
“It looks to me that we just might have swapped one layer of government for another with added higher taxes,” one of my colleagues from the Seymour Tribune quickly chimed in.
The wrinkles in the governor’s brow deepened and his expression took one of surprise as he said this was the first he had heard of the move to fire protection districts. “I’ll have to check into that,” he said.
Presently, only one township in Jackson County—Pershing Township— has a fire protection district. That taxing entity is responsible for about 8% of a property owner’s total tax bill. By comparison, here in Crothersville & Vernon Township, fire protection represents about 1.5% of a property owner’s tax bill.
Because of the commissioners’ action, the fire protection districts of Brownstown, Driftwood, Grassy Fork, Hamilton, Jackson, Owen-Salt Creek, and Redding will be putting together their first spending budgets later this year. Property owners in those townships will be paying more for their fire protection in 2011. Just how much more will be up to those newly appointed fire protections district boards.
For the record, the Crothersville-Vernon Township Fire Department did not seek to establish a fire protection district because they were concerned of what the higher property taxes would do to not just homeowners but businesses and farmers as well. The local department opted to take a wait & see position and possibly re-visit the matter after the legislature finishes its business for the year in a few weeks.