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The Journal Gazette

September 20, 2016 1:01 AM

Short-sighted solution

About the authors

The following community leaders signed this piece:

Tom Henry, mayor of Fort Wayne

Terry McDonald, mayor of New Haven

Greta Southard, director of Allen County Public Library 

Wendy Robinson, superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools

Property taxes fund some of our most tangible public services: school buses, police and firefighters, library books, parks, neighborhood street improvements and much more. These costs and benefits are shared by individuals, families, businesses and commercial property owners alike.

City Councilman Jason Arp’s proposal to phase out the business personal property tax – the tax commercial entities pay on equipment – for all of Allen County would have the terrible dual effect of increasing property taxes for the majority of Allen County homeowners while forcing the hand of taxing units to once again cut key services.

Right now, two-thirds of homeowners in Allen County have not hit the 1 percent property tax cap. If the business personal property tax is eliminated, these homeowners or any other real property owners who have not reached the cap are subject to seeing their taxes rise. But those increases likely do not offset the losses from shifting the tax burden away from industrial equipment. Lots of people would be paying more and getting less. This is simply a raw deal for too many taxpayers.

Do not mistake us for being anti-business. We need our area to be attractive for business investment. Yet Indiana remains a leading business-friendly state. Area Development Magazine just named Indiana the eighth best state for doing business, the only one outside of the South to make the top 10.

While low taxes and a favorable regulatory environment are important, we cannot overlook the quality-of-life and quality-of-place elements employers seek. There is no question that Allen County is experiencing unprecedented momentum for quality-of-place initiatives. We were one of three locations to receive the state’s Regional Cities dollars. Our downtowns are experiencing remarkable activity. Our schools are educating the next generation of workers and scholars. Our library branches are neighborhood gathering spots. These are all features any community would be proud to have, and they are at least in part funded through property tax dollars.

We already have an effective mechanism for enabling business growth while limiting the immediate tax burden: tax abatements. They allow review of plans to ensure companies employ people at reasonable wages in exchange for phasing in new real and personal property taxes. The wholesale removal of business personal property tax, albeit over time, eliminates this watchdog mechanism.

We may or may not agree on whether we should readjust the revenue streams that fund our entities in the future. However, we stand together in opposing the present plan. It creates a shortfall from existing income with no assurance beyond a hope of presumed growth. This is not a plan or strategy. It’s a wish. As proposed, permanent repeal of business personal property tax in Allen County is a bad deal for our constituents and taxpayers because it benefits a few while costing many.

What alternatives could look like is a conversation for another day and will hopefully include us. Right now we call on the Allen County Income Tax Council – the Fort Wayne City Council – to reject this proposal to permanently phase out business personal property tax. Too much is at stake.