Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

March 22, 2014

Chamber dinner topics: state advocacy and local goals

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — BROOKVILLE – At the 125th Brookville/Franklin County Chamber of Commerce annual meeting March 18, Mike Ripley, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce health care vice president, noted, “While we offer many services … advocacy is our primary mission. To work for business legislation with the General Assembly to get things passed that are good for businesses here in Indiana.” He pointed out the Indiana Chamber is the largest business advocacy group in the state with 5,000 members representing 800,000 employees.

Reflecting on the recent General Assembly, Ripley reported 855 bills were filed in both houses and about 220 passed, “a lot of activity for the short session. Probably the No. 1 issue was in the tax and fiscal area.” One achievement was the passage of Senate Bill 1.

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar noted on the Web site, “Positive movement on this issue has been a long time coming. Business personal property tax has been the one tax policy area in which we stand out negatively. Some states don’t tax it at all, and Indiana’s rate is among the highest in the country.

“This legislation begins to offer relief to Indiana businesses and is a good initial step toward totally eliminating personal property tax in the future. The two local options, which provide for the ability to exempt newly-acquired property outright or for small businesses, and the ‘super abatement’ (extending tax abatement from 10 to 20 years) will prove to be meaningful tools in attracting new business and jobs to the state,” he predicted.

The speaker said the bill also will reduce the corporate tax rate from 6.5 percent to 4.9 percent in 2022 and will create a commission to study how eliminating the business personal property tax will impact local governments and TIF districts.

Two more business successes: House Bill 1083 will allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work later in the evening. When a former employee makes an unemployment claim and it’s disputed, the burden of proof is removed from both parties when they appear in front of an administrative law judge. Ripley explained the judge will base the decision on law. “We thought it was a very good idea. Labor folks didn’t like it, but it passed anyway.”

According to the vice president, “This year, as always, there were numerous bills related to education. Three might be of interest to you.” House Bill 1004 establishes an early education grant pilot program for low-income 4-year-olds. “The Family and Social Services Administration gets to make the call what counties that will be in. There has been a lot of discussion about Common Core (a federal standards initiative) … the last couple of years.” Senate Bill 91 voids Common Core language in Indiana, but calls for state standards by July 1. The Legislature also created a panel to review Core 40 graduation guidelines and will make recommendations about career and technical education offerings.

About 15 percent of 800 water utilities and 500 wastewater utilities are under Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission jurisdiction. With the enactment of House Bill 1187, that number could rise, because now when communities are not able to agree on service territories, IURC has the authority to intervene.

Incoming board President Dave Cook called for a standing ovation for Bill Schirmer, who served as president for three years. Schirmer thanked former office manager Annette Wilhelm and welcomed membership director Melissa Johnston.

He paid tribute to “inspirational” past board members Rodney Grubbs, Allen Beneker and Jane Klenke. Attendees applauded two 2013 board members who stepped down, Sylvia Moore and Michelle Brier.

Cook detailed his goals for 2014. He wants to create a committee that can work with county and state governments. “We’re over 200 members strong, but we don’t get a lot of attention.” The president also hopes to name a chamber grant writer who can lend expertise to other county groups.

Johnston has been tasked with helping to develop a long-range plan. Cook also wants to develop a community profile for prospective residents and businesses with much data, including an inventory of available structures.

The chamber will continue to sponsor November Noel and After Hours, “a very good time to meet the fellow business individuals.” Cook admitted, “I think we have a problem. We don’t really know what each other does …. We don’t understand each other sometimes and we compete.” He wants to collaborate with the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce on an air show at Batesville Aviation and partner with Brookville Main Street and businesses to discuss the upcoming Main Street paving project.

“We are blessed with the membership we have and everybody pitches in to accomplish things,” like the annual dinner. He encouraged chamber members to “step up and do what you can for us.”

Board member Beth Siebert explained the Business/Group Beautification Award is given to persons who have made an outstanding contribution to the effort of raising the image of Brookville and Franklin County. Incoming Vice President Mike Martino reported, “Whether trimming tree branches on Brookville’s Main Street or landscaping on a city lot … this team is right in the middle of it. They have beautification in their blood.”

Mick and Jenny Wilz, Lowell “Teen” and Sharon McMillin and Jud and Natasha McMillin also earned the honor for renovating 801 Main St. into the Brookville Lodge while retaining as much of the original charm as possible. Natasha McMillin said, “We want to thank the local businesses who have promoted us ... We’ve been surprisingly pretty darn busy.”

The Small Business/Entrepreneur of the Year Award goes to an entity that exemplifies the American Dream of free enterprise and success. “This award is given to a business that has and continues to make a significant contribution and impact on the community .... Through its integrity and charity, this small business or entrepreneur should provide a goodwill spirit and character,” according to guidelines.

Siebert noted the recipient, Michelle Roberts-Schneider, owner of All 4 Kids Daycare and Preschool, “does it all through children.” The business, which now employs 20, started in 2003 with one building, then others were added in 2005, 2007 and 2008. Roberts-Schneider said she felt “very humbled. I can’t take all of the credit. It’s my staff and my husband, Drew. We work hard to change the lives of the children we care for every day.” Siebert maintained, “What Michelle’s doing today is going to grow our work force tomorrow.”

The Corporate Citizen of the Year is defined as a business that is a role model for the county and “a place that our entire community can look to for leadership and guidance.” The honoree must demonstrate leadership, success in promoting the county’s development, community involvement, participation in professional activities and a respected reputation.

According to Siebert, “Tom’s Sales and Service is everywhere. Do you ever turn anything down? They help the community with sports teams, benefits… Bill (Schirmer) and his staff are also involved in a lot of professional organizations, and Bill is involved in EMS and the chamber.” Schirmer said, “Being involved in the community … can be dangerous. You don’t know when to ... say no. But I do enjoy giving back.” He said in addition to increasing self-esteem, “I also believe from a marketing standpoint, if you put your name on the back of some kid’s T-shirt (or contribute to the community in other ways) … there’s great value for a business owner.”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

Ten serve on chamber board In addition to Cook, other 2014 board members are Vice President Mike Martino, Secretary Susan Moster, Treasurer Holly Murray, and Schirmer, Jeff Franks, Joe Jester, Sean Berns, Steve Krider and Beth Siebert. Sara Duffy is the Franklin County Community School Corp. liaison and Connie Gayda is the Brookville Main Street liaison. Cook explained, "We're trying to get everybody to talk and get on the same page."