House Bill 1096 language overreaching, deceptive

House Bill 1096 language is deceptive

To the editor:

House Bill 1096 authored and recently introduced by State Rep. Bob Cherry is one of those pieces of legislation that doesn’t seem to say what it means or mean what it says.

The original joint resolution by the Hancock County Commissioners and Council seemed simple enough. It called for a temporary 1 percent increase in Hancock County’s current food and beverage tax to be used solely to renovate the County’s current fairgrounds and/or to construct a new traditional fairgrounds.

Unfortunately, HB 1096 seems to go far beyond what the public has been led to believe. First, the temporary tax has been changed to a permanent one. Second, the proceeds from the new tax are clearly no longer restricted or narrowly defined.

The use of the new tax proceeds have been considerably expanded to include public safety, the facilitation of revenue bonds, leveraging of funds to maximize borrowing, balancing of the county’s budget and a host of other questionable purposes.

The real purpose of the current House Bill 1096 is very clear. It is intended to eliminate the Hancock County Commissioners from any future involvement in the proposed new fairgrounds/convention center.

Commissioners Brad Armstrong and Marc Huber have drawn the ire of the Hancock County Exposition Complex Corporation (HCECC) by insisting on a “doable plan” being put on the table.

The questions being asked by the commissioners need asking, and they are to be applauded for their resolve in not signing off on a bogus lease based on mere verbal assurances from Councilmen Kent Fisk, Jim Shelby and the rest.

The HCECC has unilaterally taken it upon itself to incorporate and take on the development of the county farm site, new fairground, multi-use convention-hospitality center and new expanded Purdue Extension campus.

Initially, the HCECC publicly stated that it was prepared to complete this project “without spending a penny of taxpayer money.” A year into the project, the HCECC announced that it would require taxpayers to totally fund the entire project and subsequent operations. There is no question that HB1096 is a well-orchestrated end-run around the Hancock County Commissioners. It is also a deliberate effort to deny public involvement in matters effecting them going forward.

Finally, it is an intentional act to empower a private corporation (the HCECC) and a quorum of the county council (County Council members Kent Fisk, Jim Shelby, Bill Bolander and Tom Roney) with the absolute power to make all decision relative to the proposed fairgrounds and convention center.

State Rep. Cherry and the Legislature have no right to undermine and usurp the powers of the Hancock County Commissioners in exercising their constitutional powers.

For these reasons, Rep. Cherry and the Legislature are asked to either withdraw HB 1096 or change its language so as to reinstate the normal powers of the county commissioners to set priorities for the county; establish the new fund for the proceeds from the new tax; determine the design and scope of the project(s) to be funded; oversee construction and all related contracts; decide all subsequent maintenance and operation issues related to the new facilities; and terminate the tax when deemed no longer necessary.

John Priore

Blue River Township Board member