BY BILL DOLAN, Times of Northwest Indiana
bdolan@nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | Lake County government officials must find between $10 million and $15 million to cut out of this year's budget before Indiana's property tax reforms begin in eight months, county officials said Wednesday.

County Councilman Larry Blanchard, R-Crown Point, said he will help lead that search as chairman of the county government finance committee.

"Nothing is off the table at this point. Everything is under consideration," Blanchard said.

Possibilities include layoffs, service cuts and a local income tax -- an option Blanchard said he finds personally repugnant. He voted against an income tax last year.

Commissioner Fran DuPey, D-Hammond, said Wednesday, "Why don't we get rid of all the consultants? That would be a good start."

Both DuPey and Commissioner Gerry Scheub said Wednesday they will never vote for an income tax.

"I won't vote for a study of an option income tax either," Scheub said.

Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, said he isn't opposed to an income tax but agrees with DuPey, Scheub and Blanchard that the source of their problems began five years ago with legislation shifting $200 million in property tax burden from industry to homeowners.

However, the county's budget continued growing until this year, when another law froze the county's property tax levy upon the refusal of county officials to pass a state-mandated local income tax.

Blanchard said county government revenues will be depressed further next year by the state keeping a larger share of property tax funds and imposing property tax caps of between 1.5 percent and 2 percent of assessed value on homes.

"This got our attention," Blanchard said.

Other county officials have urged the adoption of the Good Government Initiative study, released 14 months ago, that recommended job cuts and consolidation of duplicated services at a projected cost savings of more than $5 million.

Blanchard said the finance committee -- comprised of members of the county council, commissioner and other elected officials -- has several months to work before the Lake County Council must finalize its 2009 budget.

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