ANDERSON, Ind. — Over the objections of town and city leaders and economic development executives, the Madison County Council Wednesday night voted along party lines to rescind the county wheel tax.
The vote was split down party lines. Republican councilmen Mike Phipps, Mike Gaskill, Rick Gardner and David McCartney voted to rescind, while Democrats Larry Higgins and John Bostic voted against it. Democrat Buddy Patterson was not at the meeting because of illness.
In explaining his vote against the wheel tax, Gaskill said, “I see it as the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
When county residents are struggling with job loss and are living on fixed incomes, the best thing government leaders can do is cut taxes, he said.
When town and city leaders said they’ve been struggling to cope with declining tax revenues for years and need the wheel tax to pay for basic road maintenance, Gaskill said, “I can tell you why tax revenue is down, it’s down because people’s revenue is down and it’s going to get worse.”
“I’m telling you right now, I know that there are some people who are going to be mad at me for my vote. I may get my butt thrown off of here and have a short term, but while I’m here I’m for the taxpayers and we’re not done yet.”
Many in the audience erupted in applause.
City and town leaders offered another view. They argued that faced with declining property tax revenue, the wheel tax is needed to pay for road maintenance and repairs and paving.
Republican County Commissioner John Richwine said the tax has been used for paving and for leveraging state and federal money to pay for needed road and bridge repairs throughout the county.
In explaining his support for the tax, Bostic called the tax a last resort previous county councils rejected for years until it was absolutely necessary.
“We’ve been lucky this winter,” Bostic said. “We’re not always going to be lucky. The wheel tax is a must. We don’t want the county to turn back into rock. It’s the cheapest tax we can do to be able to help the people of this county.”
The tax was implemented by the county in 2009, and is collected each year when vehicle owners renew their license plates.
In 2011, the county collected just over $3 million. Slightly less than half, about $1.4 million, was kept by the county, the rest was distributed to cities and towns.
Supporters of the tax warned the council that it should beware of unintended consequences of its actions and study the matter carefully before making a decision. However, it appeared clear the Republican majority’s mind was made up and no amount of testimony would change the outcome.
Before the hearing, Phipps established rules for how it would be conducted. Speakers were limited to three minutes each, and only two representatives from each community could testify.
After those groups spoke, private citizens were allowed to speak. All went well until current Anderson Police Chief Larry Crenshaw, who resigned from the County Council in January to accept that post.
When Crenshaw asked to speak as a citizen and not in his official role, Phipps attempted to gavel him into silence and refused to let him speak.