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County council rejects bill to repeal tax abatement rules

The St. Joseph County Council Tuesday night voted down a bill that would have eliminated uniform rules for businesses receiving property tax breaks.

The bill’s sponsors, Republicans Amy Drake and Joe Thomas, along with South Bend Regional Chamber President Jeff Rea, argued that the county’s existing system for granting property tax abatements needs to be easier and more business-friendly. They said the county needs a more simplified abatement process like one the city of Mishawaka uses.

Both systems try to use property tax breaks to incentivize the creation and retention of good-paying, safe jobs.

Mishawaka has no abatement ordinance. The city and business negotiate each deal from scratch, except for a few requirements in state law. The county ordinance gives bigger tax discounts for specific things like having an apprenticeship program. The council enacted it in 2009 after a task force of community members, representing a wide range of interests, spent weeks in work groups hashing out the details.

By contrast, Schaetzle said this bill was written by council attorney Jamie O’Brien, with some input from Rea.

The bill seemed headed for passage in light of the council’s five-to-four Republican majority. But Republican Council Member Dan Schaetzle broke with Democrats in voting it down.

Schaetzle, a Penn High School History teacher who is also certified to teach government, had many problems with the bill. He said it gave the legislative branch too much power, it needed more input from the county’s economic development staff, and it didn’t incentivize building projects with local labor.

"I will not agree to an abatement ordinance that gives tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to the largest of America's corporations while failing to incentivize those companies to use our local workforce and local contractors," Schaetzle said at the meeting.

Schaetzle and Democrats said they agree the ordinance could be updated. Council President Mark Root said under council rules the bill can’t come up again for at least six months.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).