It was deja vu all over again for the Clay County Council at last night's monthly meeting.
Per usual, the Council voted on appropriations and transfers. Per usual, they passed various ordinances pertaining to the county. And for the second month in a row, the group of seven decided to stall voting on the hotly debated Inventory Tax elimination in light of new information.
The special session on the tax took place in the county courthouse at 7 p.m. A crowd of at least 40 business owners, residents, and other interested parties filled the courtroom. Many of these persons came to voice their opinions while others came to watch.
President Les Harding opened the meeting with a prepared speech, requesting civility from the audience.
"I ask that everyone understand that since we can't please everyone, we all want everyone to walk away from this as friends," he said. "We will have discussion, probably heated discussion, but only one of us will speak at a time."
Harding then opened the floor to the public. County Commissioner Daryl Andrews opened the conversation by introducing Stan Pinegar, who spoke at last month's meeting as well.
"18 cities have eliminated the Inventory Tax so far," Pinegar said, "and we expect another one to have eliminated it by the end of the night.
"There are lots of factors here, policy-wise and politically. You have to look at this as a growth issue or you can just as well forget about it. You have to look at it as a growth tool for the county."
Pinegar then said that Adams County, since eliminating the Inventory Tax, has "landed three significant economic development projects.
"All three of these business pointed to the elimination of the Inventory Tax as to why they chose that county," he continued.
Jack Knust, president of Clay County's Farm Bureau, then took the floor.
"The majority of the Farm Bureau board wanted to eliminate the Inventory Tax," he said. "I spoke to a specialist in Indianapolis who said that the monetary shift to the taxpayer would be next to nothing.
"Maybe it won't bring much industry, but even if it brings one business in, it's worth it. I'm not here for myself, but for Farm Bureau and what I think is good for the county."
A local resident spoke up next, saying that "people say it won't shift the money that much, but a lot of us can't take much."
Resident Charlie Brown then took the floor.
"Why put the tax burden on the Property Taxpayer," he asked. "I'm not saying the inventory tax isn't unfair, but maybe we should find a way to put the shift on someone else."
After a few more speakers, Rob Moore then took the floor with a "different perspective," as he put it.
"In the Silicon Valley in California," he said, "we had to relocate our companies a lot. We hired consultants to move our company, and they showed us where good spots to go were by highlighting the areas pink on a map. This tax is going to go away and everyone's going to be in the pink soon, but we can be pink for a short while.
"Everyone's handing out tax abatements," he continued, referring to the suggestion that an abatement could be used to draw business to Clay County. "Consultants are looking for something peculiar in the community that they can use. This tax elimination could be our hook."
Several taxpayers took the floor throughout the course of the evening, many of whom said that even the slightest increase in taxes could hurt those on a fixed income.
Shirley Thomas was one of those residents. In her brief statement, she asked the Council to not "put any more tax burden on us at this time."
Brown spoke up again, saying that he thought "there's another alternative."
Sam Crawn, owner of Sam's Hardware, also had quite a bit to say:
"Whether you'd like to admit it or not, everyone in here is paying inventory tax," he said. "(The shift) is not going to be that much when you spend it on every household."
Marty Jaffe, owner of the Brazil Autoplex and one of the more vocal persons behind the push to remove the tax, simply said that he "(hates) taxes" and that "the more people we get in the game to help, the less we all pay."
After a few more speakers, both in favor of and against removing the tax, Rep. Andy Thomas took the floor with the biggest news of the night.
"I can relate to the council's situation," he said. "It's hard to have to sit there and make that decision... the main reason I came here tonight was to tell you that Bob Lain of the State Budget Agency told me that Clay County will be getting at least $581,000 in CAGIT money soon."
This announcement caused quite a stir among both the Council and the audience. After some discussion, Harding then opened the floor to the Council. Larry Moss spoke first, evoking quite a reaction from the crowd.
"I've been here all but five years of my life," he said. "Obviously the future of the county is very close to my heart. My oldest daughter wants to be a lawyer and she's already talking about how she 'wants to live here or there,' and it just breaks my heart. I want her to stay here, close to me.
"What strikes me is that a lot of people seem to be here saying 'we don't want to pay for it, so we'll make another 1,000 pay for it instead. As citizens of Clay County, are we willing to say that we want these things but aren't willing to pay for them?"
Several other councilmen spoke, most in favor of holding back on the vote for a final month to review Thomas' big announcement.
"The timing on this tax removal couldn't be worse," Councilman Mike McCullough said. "Three or Four years ago we could have done this without it being much of an issue. If what Thomas said is true, that casts a whole new light on the subject."
Councilwoman Rita Rothrock agreed, saying that the Council "needed more time" and that she preferred "not to make a decision yet."
"I'm not going to shift the taxes over to other taxpayers," Councilman Tony Dalton added. "I'm just not."
Harding then spoke up, complimenting the (mostly) calm crowd.
"I saw something coming last month that I didn't want to see this month, but you've all been well-behaved," he said.
Ultimately the Council voted to leave the item tabled, adjourning the meeting without "picking the tax up," so to speak. The Council now has until Dec. 31 to make a decision regarding the tax before the voting deadline has ended.
"Unfortunately, I think people who were here weren't well-informed," Rep. Brooks LaPlante said after the meeting. "Sometimes you've got people who haven't heard both sides. I think it comes down to taking the initiative to do something that hasn't been done, take a leap of faith."
The County Council will meet again on Monday, Dec. 1 to discuss, among other things, the elimination of the Inventory Tax. The public is invited.