Tax increase to benefit public safety

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LAPEL — Lapel, Pendleton and Markleville were among Madison County municipalities joining the county to pass a local income tax increase for public safety.
A boost from .25% to .55%, which was passed by Madison County Tax Council late last month, is expected to generate about $8 million across the county, according to Madison County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Hanna, who spoke to the Lapel town council at its Oct. 21 meeting.
Pendleton’s five-member town council voted unanimously for the tax increase at a special meeting in late October. It was the second time the council voted to adopt the change. Initially, it voted for the increase in September.
“There were some questions and legalities brought up,” council President Chet Babb said prior to the special meeting vote. “(Town attorney Jeff Graham) thought we were OK, but it affects the whole county; we need vote (again) on this ordinance with public hearing.”
President Daniel Roseberry said Markleville’s council voted unanimously, 3-0, to adopt the income tax modification at its Oct. 25 meeting.
Ingalls did not hold a hearing or vote on the increase.
“The effect across the county would be substantial,” Hanna told the Lapel council. “Municipalities such as Lapel and Pendleton are growing communities. You’re looking at having to provide public safety resources for those growing communities. This is one way, and to some degree the best way, to provide those resources to your community because it’s a tax that doesn’t just affect Lapel. It affects all taxpayers across Madison County, and you receive a respective share.”
Hanna said of the projected $8 million, the county would get $3 million — with some portion devoted to a county jail project — the city of Anderson would get $3.5 million, and so forth on down. He added that Lapel has shown the greatest growth of any municipality across the county, and the division of money from the new tax is proportional to population and property tax revenue.
“As Lapel continues to grow, the piece of that pie will continue to grow,” Hanna said.
He added, “This tax is something, I think, that can be the most significant change in public safety in the history of this county. It’s the most substantial step forward that I am aware of. It could not come at a better or more important time. Our system, on the county level and — I think others may speak of this as well — I think we’re reaching a crisis. It’s been compounded to some degree by COVID-19, but even before then we were stretched to our limit. I think COVID and the backlog and everything that’s created, we need more resources to be able to continue to keep citizens in this county safe and do the best job that we can.”
The increase would amount to about $2.60 per pay period (two weeks) for a $50,000 salary.
“You still decide where it’s spent. It’s not the fire chief, the police chief or the EMS chief. You all decide where in public safety this will be spent. That’s a big responsibility, but it’s a pretty cool responsibility,” Madison County sheriff Scott Mellinger told the council.
“On a typical weekend night, we’ll have one officer on duty in Lapel, one on duty in Pendleton, one on duty in Ingalls and one on duty in Edgewood,” Lapel town council president Chad Blake said. “That team of people, and anyone available from the sheriff’s department, if one incident happens can pull all those officers out of all those communities to help take care of.”
Blake mentioned that type of situation recently happened. He said the Lapel officer was transporting someone to the jail and an incident happened in Lapel that resulted in four other communities and a sheriff’s deputy coming to Lapel, leaving all of the other communities without their police officer.
“This tax is a step in getting that taken care of,” Blake said.
He added, “I’ve talked with several people in the community. The biggest and only concern that came up was, they support the need and thought it was a small amount of money, ultimately, out of their pocket every year, but they want to make sure it is being used correctly. They know the smaller communities are going to use that money correctly, their concern was how the county level, since it gets about half the total fund, will use it.”
The tax increase becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2022.