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Taxes prove top issue for District 1 council candidates

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Neither candidate running for county council plans on raising new taxes paid by residents, but one is open to finding new revenue through user fees or a tax on visitors staying in hotels while the other would rather focus on saving more and cutting expenses.

Republicans Pete Ketchum and Jim Ray are running for the District 1 county council seat, which includes all of the county except for Pleasant, Franklin and the northern half of White River townships. Ketchum, the incumbent, is running for his first full term after being selected by a caucus to fill a vacancy on the council in 2011.

Ray is a longtime president of the Amity Fire District board and retired engineer. Whoever is selected in the primary will represent the Republican party in the general election and could face a Democratic or independent opponent if one is slated.

Ray wants to make sure fire districts, the county sheriff’s office and highway department have enough money to do their jobs.

Ketchum’s top priority is to ensure the county continues to not spend more than it raises in taxes and fees. Council members should continue searching for new ways to raise money outside of taxes, which could mean considering higher user fees for copying files or payments made by offenders to cover the cost of probation.

Tax increases aren’t needed to fund new expenses, such as the new Superior Court 4 that opens in 2015, or helping to pay for current county employees, Ketchum said. But the costs for salaries, utilities and equipment continue to rise so the county needs to find new sources of revenue or find ways to cut costs, he said.

This year, Ketchum voted to approve a local innkeeper’s tax, which is charged on stays at hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts and funds tourism marketing, but the new tax was not approved. An innkeeper’s tax could create more revenue by promoting local businesses, which would help them attract more visitors and possibly lead to those sites expanding their business, creating new property taxes and hiring more people who then pay the income tax.

“The monies would go toward the creation of a visitor/tourism bureau which would market events, attractions and businesses, which would ultimately increase revenue,” Ketchum said.

Ray hasn’t made a final decision whether he would support a local innkeeper’s tax and thinks there might be another way to promote tourism without a new tax.

Instead of trying to find new places to raise revenue, the county should focus more on building savings, Ray said. If county offices have new expenses or new needs, the council shouldn’t just spend all its money either, he said. When Ray was raising his children, he would offer to pay part of a bill if they could come up with a portion of it, and the same rule could apply to county departments, he said.

“I’d say, ‘I will put up half the money and you put up the other half,’ and they went to work at a paying job and came up with the money. I can make it possible, but I’m not going to give it all to you,” Ray said.

Ray isn’t familiar with all of the county’s spending, and would want to do extensive research when considering new requests. He previously worked for an engineering firm and would present projects to local governments, so he knows what information council members should be asking for when considering any project.

If new employees or new equipment are not something the county desperately needs or can’t afford right now, the county shouldn’t dip into savings to pay for it.

“There might be some services that we just couldn’t afford,” Ray said. “I would stand hard on getting by with what we have first. I’m really not interested in raising taxes.”

The local economy continues to improve, which will help generate more taxes for the county from new homes, new businesses and more residents working and paying income taxes, Ketchum said. But the county should continue to look for new ways to save money, such as consolidating services like what is happening with 911 service or partnering with other local governments to make bulk purchases on equipment.

“The biggest financial challenge to the county is to keep the budget balanced, to be economically responsible and stable in our spending,” Ketchum said.

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