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Monroe County considering a Rain Water Tax

By Scott Tibbs, May 6, 2011

On Thursday evening, the county drainage board held a public hearing on the proposal for a Rain Water Tax and a number of people showed up to object to it.

The concern I addressed in my comments was that this is not a fee. A fee is something you pay in exchange for a service, such as the $21 fee to renew your driver's license. I can choose whether or not to pay a fee by using or not using the service funded by that fee. I cannot choose whether to pay a tax. The Rain Water Tax is going to be applied to every property owner in the county. It is a tax on its face. No matter how the state legislature defines it, we need to be very clear about what we are doing. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

So why go with a "fee" instead of a tax? Primarily, because it is much easier to implement the Rain Water Tax as a "fee" instead of seeking a new tax.

We do have issues with drainage in Monroe County, and we do need to deal with those issues. We are also under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no disputing that. There are questions, however, about whether this is necessarily the best option. Do we really need a $1 million budget for a new Rain Water Department in county government? Does that new department really need five full-time staff members?

We also have to seriously think about the economic impact of this proposal. The Herald-Times reported on Wednesday that large employers including General Electric, Cook Medical and Baxter "would be expected to pay more than $10,000 a year" if the Rain Water Tax is implemented. As we struggle to shake off the recession and as drastic increases in gasoline prices are putting a major strain on everyone, do we really need a significant tax increase on some of our biggest employers?

County commissioner Mark Stoops responded to concerns about the cost of the Rain Water Tax on businesses looking to expand here by arguing that Monroe County has a low tax rate. This is only one portion of how we should view the tax burden. As a hypothetical example, a home valued at $75,000 on Greene County may be valued at $150,000 or more in Monroe County, especially if it is located near the Indiana University campus. You cannot only look at the tax rate to determine the tax burden.

It is unfortunate that the Chamber of Commerce immediately endorsed the idea of the Rain Water Tax, especially given the large amount of money that some local businesses will be paying. I have known for years that the Chamber has been at best a weak advocate for local business and at worst openly hostile to business interests. Local business needs a Chamber that will stand for them, instead of jumping on board with new taxes and regulations proposed by city and county government.

In order to be implemented, the Rain Water Tax must be approved by the drainage board, and then approved by both the county council and county commissioners. Here's hoping that they carefully consider this proposal and the objections to it before they smack us with yet another tax increase.