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12/18/2013 10:58:00 AM
DeKalb Eastern Superintendent warns against business tax cut

Aaron Organ, Star

BUTLER — DeKalb Eastern Schools superintendent Dr. Jeff Stephens on Monday challenged the school board to contact members of the General Assembly to voice opposition of Gov. Mike Pence’s proposed elimination of Indiana’s business personal property tax.

Pence has said the $1 billion cut will create jobs. Stephens, however, told the board Monday that it will kill his and other school districts.

Stephens presented a slide show at the board’s regular meeting that showed the district would lose an estimated half of its assessed value, while taxpayers would feel a 40-cent increase per $100 of assessed value. Stephens said the district would be hit with a revenue loss of some $2 million.

That means, according to Stephens, the district could not fund the district transportation system, bus replacement or capital improvement projects. An alternative, Stephens said, would be to cut staff and pay for necessities with the savings, or pitch a revenue-generating referendum to the taxpayers.

Stephens said he spoke with Sen. Dennis Kruse and Rep. Ben Smaltz on Monday about the matter, who both confirmed bills are pending that would move this tax cut forward. Stephens said Kruse told him he would not vote for such a bill unless there was a “dollar-for-dollar replacement,” such as cutting the homestead exemption or an increase of county sales tax. Smaltz told Stephens he would explore letting counties decide whether to cut the tax rather than it be statewide, Stephens said.

Stephens also challenged the board members, as elected officials themselves, to contact higher-ups in the General Assembly and voice their concerns.

“This is being pushed by the leadership of the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate and the Governor,” Stephens told the board. “I have not asked you to do this in the past, but folks, you’re elected officials, you’re going to have to get ahold of your fellow elected officials if you think this is a nonstarter, because I’m not going to get very far on this.”

Stephens said he would disseminate contact information for Statehouse leadership for the board.

In the meantime, Stephens said he spoke with DeKalb Central and Garrett-Keyser-Butler schools about collectively writing a mailer to county residents detailing the proposed cut and its impact. He said he spoke with Hamilton Community Schools superintendent Jon Willman, as well, who said such a measure would “be the death of Hamilton,” according to Stephens.

The board took no action on the information.

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