Public safety tax success in Boone County could entice other communities

LEBANON, Ind. -- A public safety tax passed by Boone County officials this week could entice other communities to use the same mechanism to pay for upgrades.

The Boone County income tax council, made up of representatives from each city and town, passed the new tax levy on Tuesday.

The .5 percent increase to the local income tax will raise about $13 million per year for the county, with all of it earmarked exclusively for public safety needs.

That money will be doled out to each community, based on size, with about $4.5 million for the sheriff's office, nearly $4 million for Zionsville, $2.5 million for Lebanon, and $1.7 million for Whitestown. Each community then decides which public safety agencies are awarded portions of that money, and what it will be spent on.

Sheriff Mike Nielsen, who came up with the plan and has been pushing for it for months, said he'll hire 24 new employees, including 10 at the jail and eight deputies on the road. He'll also pay for upgraded security and software, and put away $100,000 into an emergency fund each year, and $200,000 into a building fund, to eventually be used for a juvenile center and jail upgrades.

Nielsen also said the county would hire its first part-time animal control officer. Right now, humane society volunteers handle all animal control issues in the county.

Nielsen and others argued, simply, that Boone County is getting bigger and with that comes more problems with drugs and crime. Zionsville's fourth murder ever, of an elderly man shot to death in his driveway, remains unsolved.

"We’re trying to get out of that reactive law enforcement mode and try to get into a more intelligent-led policing mode," Nielsen said.

The tax is part of a modified state law, that went into effect in July, which took away a previous .25 percent cap on the public safety tax. Counties can now increase income taxes by increments of .25 percent and tag it for public safety, economic development or other needs.

Nielsen said that while no one has specifically reached out to him yet, he does expect other communities to see the changes Boone County will make using this money and consider a similar tax increase.

"2018 is when my feet are held to the fire and we start showing the public what we have done and what we are going to continue to do," Nielsen said.

Pending approval from the state, Boone County taxpayers will see the increase taken out of their paychecks starting in January. Budgets in each municipality will be approved in late October, laying out which departments will get how much money and their plans for it.

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