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Reduced gas taxes cut county's highway budget

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Feix says $4 gas is to blame

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - As the county commissioners approved a number of budgets for 2010 July 6, one noted that the highway department's budget would lose $411,000 due to a lack of gas sales in the county.

"That's about 35 percent," Jody Fortwendel said.

He said later the decline was due to "the economy and a lot of people shopping outside the county for gas." He noted that after a gas station opened recently just off Interstate 64 in the northern part of the county, offering regular gas at $2.59 per gallon, prices at a nearby station fell to match it. "Competition is helping," he noted.

He also said the $411,000 was a ballpark figure, and "it's really probably closer to $700,000," and suggested The News check with County Highway Superintendent Ed Feix.

"The State Board of Accounts told me and (County Auditor ) Connie Berger it would be about 40 percent, or $730,000," Feix said. "All of the counties got hit."

He was also told he'd have to cut $155,000 from this year's budget for the same reason, he said, explaining the cutbacks are due to declines in gas-tax revenues during the period when gas prices were in the $4 range.

The budgets approved by the commissioners were their own and those for the courthouse, animal shelter, highway department, local roads and streets, cumulative bridge and landfill.

In other business, the commissioners voted to approve an agreement with Carmel attorney Marilyn Meighn, who will represent the county if a property-tax-exemption request from Grandview Care Inc. goes to court.

As The News reported June 14, the commissioners voted to approve the attorney's employment after County Assessor Mendy Ward explained the company claimed it's eligible for exemptions because it serves low-income clients, "but they have no type of screening process to validate the tenant roll." Rents should be lower if the company serves disadvantaged clients, she added, but they're at market value.

The company is a charitable organization recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, according to company representative Sam Beck, who said when the case was argued before an administrative-law judge with the Indiana Board of Tax Review, "we won" before the higher-level authority. He also said information on household size and income is collected from applicants and applied to guidelines provided by the federal Housing and Urban Development.

The appeal was filed April 28, and the hearing probably won't occur until some time next year, Ward said.