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By KEVIN KOELLING
TELL CITY – County council members asked about spending for the Perry County Development Corp. before approving it at a regular meeting Jan. 24.
The economic-development organization was to get an $182,231 additional appropriation from the county’s economic-development income-tax fund.
Councilwoman Dianne Rudolph said she was a member of the PCDC board of directors for 10 or 12 years, and “a lot of people just don’t know what the PCDC does and their budget and everything. I’d really like to know who pays what … I’d like for someone from the PCDC to come talk to us and show us their budget for the year and show us how they spend their money, and show us another pie diagram of where they get their money so we can better understand how our money’s being used.”
Councilman Ron Crawford Sr. directed a question about it to County Auditor Connie Berger.
“What can these EDIT funds be used for?” he asked.
Half of the revenue collected through the tax goes to the county highway department, Berger explained. Thirty percent goes to a community economic-development fund for bond payments “and 20 percent … is for the PCDC contract.”
Last year’s payment to the agency was $161,301, Crawford noted.
“Our EDIT funding went up for this year, yes,” Berger replied.
“But we don’t have to use that for that,” Crawford suggested.
“Yes, because it’s in the three-year EDIT plan that the commissioners have signed,” Berger countered. “It’s designated that 20 percent will go to the PCDC.”
“Here’s my whole point,” Crawford said after asking if a person could be hired with the money. “We all know how badly we need a deputy sheriff,” whose cost he estimated at approximately $40,000. “We can cut that to $140,000 and use $40,000 to hire us another deputy that we don’t have the money for, I would think that the people in Perry County would not think that we were doing bad. We have to give the PCDC some money to work with, I understand that, but if we collected another $100,000 in EDIT money, are we going to give them another $20,000?”
County council attorney Jim Tyler spoke up from the audience, explaining that the county commissioners decided to pay the PCDC 20 percent of the EDIT revenue and “a deputy sheriff is not economic development. The economic-development income tax is to promote economic development.”
“That’s why I asked the question, if it could be used for something else,” Crawford replied, asking if the commissioners could “put the money toward something else if they don’t need that much.
Like Dianne was saying, if we could see their budget … we would know.”
Councilman Stan Goffinet asked why the appropriation goes to the council for approval “when we can’t do anything about it, anyway? If we wanted to give them $140,000, where would the other $22,000 go?”
“I had checked on that last year or the year before,” Berger answered, “and the state did say that the commissioners approve the plan … but the appropriation to spend the money has to be approved by the county council.”
“So if we don’t approve it at 20 percent, (but) at a lower rate, where would the other money be spent?” Goffinet asked. He and Crawford had asked previously about the council being required to approve spending over which they have no control.
“As so often happens,” Tyler responded, “you have limited control over what you can do. If the county commissioners determine 20 percent of it should go to fund this contract, you’re obligated to do it. And if you don’t do it, the commissioners can sue you. It’s the same question that’s come up over many different topics. You gentlemen, and lady, have to talk to the commissioners … and try to persuade them to do something that you have in mind rather than what, maybe, they have in mind. And this year, that’s already been done. They’ve already developed that plan. You don’t have that option at this point.”
“They could change their mind, if they so desire,” Crawford said. “I don’t know what … other items it would go for, but I’m sure there are other things it could be spent on. I just think we ought to see the budget … .”
“We have a limit on what we will send them,” Commissioner Bill Amos said from the audience, suggesting a maximum specified in the contract is “a hundred and eighty-some thousand dollars.”
Amos and Councilman Jim Adams said they agreed with the suggestion to have PCDC explain its spending.
When Crawford suggested tabling the appropriation. Commissioner Tom Hauser said, also from the audience, “we still owe it by contract,” but he also felt having the agency explain its spending before the council was “a great idea.”
Rudolph suggested approving the appropriation “and I’d like to extend their president an invitation to come to one of our meetings” to show their budget and sources of funding. She put that into a motion that the council approved unanimously.
“Are they obligated to submit that budget to us?” Councilman Steve Goodson asked the lawyer.
“That’s a question for the PCDC,” Tyler replied. “I know a case went to the court of appeals (which ruled) that it’s not subject to audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts … it’s not a governmental entity. It’s a nonprofit corporation.”
Writing in the Hoosier State Press Association’s Indiana Publisher Jan. 31, David Penticuff said Senate Bill 162 could open such books to the public.
As written, it’s intended to bring more transparency to economic-development activities at the state level. The bill was approved Jan. 24 by the General Assembly’s Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy.
“As with most matters that pass without much dissent,” the editor of the Chronicle-Tribune in Marion wrote, “much of the more profound and controversial changes talked about as part of the legislation are not in the bill – at least not yet. That would include an effort to make local nonprofit economic-development groups that spend large amounts of public money open about how they spend that money.”