Referendum: Whitko voters say no new property tax

The voters from precincts in both Whitley and Kosciusko counties who live in the Whitko school district spoke loud and clear Tuesday about a property tax proposed by the school corporation.In the Whitley County precincts, the referendum was defeated 1,154-486 a percentage spread of 70-30.The referendum didn’t fare much better in Kosciusko County where 1,038 voters squelched the proposed tax and 384 residents gave the referendum a thumbs up.The total no-yes count for Whitko’s proposed tax was 2,192-870.The school corporation decided to add the referendum to the ballot back in July.When the proposed tax reached the county council, a flap over interpretation of the Indiana State Code set in motion events that illuminated the tax as if caught in a patrol car’s spotlight.As the tax governing body of the school corporation, the Whitley County Council received the referendum from school officials during its July 28 meeting.Indiana law stipulates the council is obligated to rubber stamp the proposed tax, leaving the proposal up to the voters to decide.Instead, the council, with Jim Banks and Bill Overdeer absent, voted down the referendum.The council voted no on the referendum 3-1 with Kim Wheeler abstaining.Following the original meeting, Whitko School Corporation attorney John Whiteleather Jr. contacted all the board members but Bayman, who could not be reached, and asked that they meet again.It is this second meeting which has created such a controversy.Detractors claim in a lawsuit filed late last month in Whitley County Circuit Court that the second meeting violated Indiana’s Open Door Law.With four members present, the council overturned its original vote 3-1 with Glen LaRue being the lone vote against the overturn of the original decision.The second decision ensured the proposed tax would make it to the polls.Steve Sickafoose, the primary plaintiff in the lawsuit, watched election results Tuesday with special attention to the referendum vote, which was tallied in Whitko’s two counties.“I heard it (the referendum) was in trouble.” Sickafoose said.“I guess I’d have to agree a little bit with what I heard earlier, which is people are struggling and they’re worried about what new taxes are coming down the line from the higher politicians, much less the school board.”Sickafoose said with the economy in the shape it’s in, he feels the best solution for the school board is not tax increase, but budget cuts.“Probably there’s a notch or two on the ol’ belt buckle that the school corporation can tighten up,” he said.Despite the defeat of the tax proposal, Sickafoose said Tuesday night there were no immediate plans to call off the dogs on the county council.“At this time, we don’t have an ax to grind, but if something happens, it’ll have to come from the other side. There’s no plan to drop it (the suit) at this time,” Sickafoose said.“I think the public came out, they spoke their opinion and we’re OK with that,” said Whitko Superintendent Steve Clason.“We’ve said all along that we wanted this (referendum) as a safety net in case the state reduced funding and that we’re in pretty good shape for the next couple of years.”