State to consider legality of Allen County bridge-tax hike at public hearing Tuesday

Did the county vote to increase bridge taxes violate a state law requiring public notice in the newspaper? (News-Sentinel.com file photo by Kevin Leininger)

The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance will conduct a public hearing next week on whether the Allen County Commissioners acted legally when they voted to increase the bridge tax in April.

County officials say increasing the bridge tax by $.0095 per $100 in a property’s assessed value is needed to pay for $54.2 million in bridge needs over the next eight years. But the Neighborhoods United Group challenged the decision, filing petitions containing the signatures of about 300 people opposed to the vote in part because the county has a balance of more than $114 million in various funds.

But as The News-Sentinel reported last month, the DLGF also raised another issue that could derail the planned tax increase. In a letter to the commissioners, the DLGF wrote that “It came to our attention that there are at least three newspapers that publish in Allen County: the Journal Gazette, Northwest News and Monroeville News. The submission (of Allen County’s county’s compliance with the notification law) only contained notices published in the Journal Gazette . . . Hence, we do not believe the county has complied” with the statute requiring counties to place notices in two newspapers, as Allen County did before the News-Sentinel ceased publication in 2017.

But the also states that if a county has only one newspaper, that is sufficient. In its June 19 response to the DLGF, the county contended that has been the case in Allen County. Other papers, the commissioners argued, serve limited areas and “It is disingenuous . . . to believe these are papers of general circulation.”

In fact, the commissioners noted, the commissioners conducted two public hearings on the tax increase even though only one is required “due to the failure of the Journal Gazette to print an earlier public notice we had requested they run . . . If the goal (of state law) is to ensure local government is transparent with its constituents ad gets the word out in advance . . . we succeeded and complied (with the law) to the best of our abilities.”

Eve if the DLGF voids the commissioners’ April vote, the county could start the process all over again, advertising as required by the state.

The hearing will be Tuesday, July 23, at 2 p.m. in Room 035 of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.