Taxes and Trails: Santa Claus Council Clears the Air

Even in an Indiana town named for a man in a big red suit, the truth speaks volumes.

Santa Claus town officials call it an investment in the economy, property value, and jobs, but some Spencer County neighbors don’t think it’s being done the right way.

With miles of walking trails in the middle, two sides defend their stance Monday evening.

“I think it’s important that we receive public input on proposals such as this,” says Council President, John Bowen to the dozens who filled the meeting room, “but you should know the facts.”

Santa Claus town council voted to increase its Capital Development Fund; a tax that pays for improvements in parks, community center, and at town hall. It’s a decision Bowen believes is misunderstood.

“Let’s get down to the brass tacks,” he says, reading from a prepared statement, “the town of Santa Claus, by any standards is the lowest taxing body for miles around.” Bowen says the Santa Claus tax rate is almost 30 percent lower than the average of the other six municipalities in the county.

Established 30 years ago, the CCD fund is a 5-cent tax per $100 in property value, which is the state-allowed max. It is one of 14 special levies authorized by the Indiana legislature.

Every three years the tax lowers automatically, until council votes to increase it again. Bowen says it has been “like clockwork” over those 30 years for council to re-establish the state-allowed 5-cent max.

Council members say last year they voted not to re-establish the maximum rate. It is currently 1.3-cents per $100 which helps raise $25,000 for town improvements. By increasing the rate to 5-cents, Bowen says it will generate an additional $70,000 in revenue.

Bowen says the tax won’t help pay for a major trails project already underway, which is where he believes the confusion lies.

“The last time when [the tax] wasn’t increased it was because a lot of the perception was it going towards the trails?” asks Beth McManoway, a Santa Claus neighbor.

It was a question that went unanswered by council.

Santa Claus trails are mostly funded with state and federal money, but councilman Seth Windell is worried how local costs can creep up.

“If that same thing happens, we’re going to owe over $2 million dollars for this trail,” he says, discussing details in funding. “We do not have the money for that.”

He was the lone no-vote for increasing the CCD tax, which passed 3-1.

According to the Trails of Santa Claus, Inc. website, all but 7,000 feet of the roughly 44,000 feet of trails are paid for, so additional funding is needed. The non-profit organization is asking for donations to cap off the project.

Town leaders say taxes may be necessary to finish work, but the CCD tax passed Monday won’t make a dent.

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