COLUMBIA CITY — Since taking the reins of the Whitley County Economic Development Corporation in the spring, Dale Buuck has spent a large portion of his time tracking down Columbia City business owners to get them to fill out the necessary paperwork to continue with their city tax abatements.
Though many have been on time and compliant, some have been difficult to contact and slow to get their forms turned in — a repeated problem that city officials are becoming frustrated with.
Buuck has been working with city Clerk-Treasurer Rosie Coyle to track down business owners, but ultimately the responsibility falls on the businesses. The forms were due last week, but many waited up until the due date.
“Between Rosie and I, we’re trying to get as many as possible,” Buuck told the City Council at its meeting earlier this week. “They’re treating it like my kids — they’re going to use every second they can.”
The city approves initial tax abatements, but requires that business owners fill out an annual form to prove compliance. Those who are not compliant are requested to come to the council and discuss the reason for non-compliance — such as not having as many employees as expected.
“At the end of the day, it’s not the EDC’s job to track these down,” Mayor Ryan Daniel said. “The tax abatement (responsibility) is on the companies. They need to be responsible to file them in the appropriate time frame.”
Every form that is delayed can be denied abatement for the year — which could mean thousands of dollars for that business.
“Maybe it’s not that important to them,” Councilwoman Jennifer Romano said.
City leaders said they aren’t going to get firm on the abatement forms this year, but next year some business owners will be in for a wake-up call.
“I suggest next year you see what forms come in on time and you don’t worry about it,” Daniel told Buuck. “I don’t see why you have to babysit companies — we’re saying they don’t have to pay on a portion of their taxes — I don’t understand why that’s not that important. Next year, send out one reminder and they’re on their own.”
The other council members agreed.
“I think they’ll learn if they miss out on the opportunity,” Jenny Reffitt said.
Daniel went on to say that he appreciates those who have turned their forms in on time, and though many voiced frustration, he reiterated that the city is business-friendly.
“We’ve done a lot of things to be business friendly,” Daniel said. “I don’t think this should be looked at as not-business-friendly.”
In recent years, the city has streamlined several things to encourage businesses, such as permitting and the tax abatement process.