Council must listen closely to citizens on sales tax issue

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Before the members of the McCook City Council take final action on the sales tax question, they need to listen .... and listen closely ... to what the people of McCook have to say.

It's important for the council to be in touch with public opinion because it will be disastrous if voters reject the sales tax question.

Why's that? What's the big deal?

The big deal is this. If McCook does not continue the sales tax in some form, the responsibility for meeting the city's obligations will fall on property tax, pushing already high property rates to intolerable levels.

So what's the problem? The council members are taking steps to place the sales tax issue on the ballot, aren't they?

Yes, they are. And they're right to say so. But, as City Editor Gloria Masoner wrote in Tuesday's Gazette, "the devil appears to be in the details."

By that statement, the city editor was referring to the fact that the several questions need to be determined before the issue goes on the ballot:

NUMBER 1 -- Should McCook voters continue the one-cent sales tax, with half to be used for property tax relief and the other half for city improvements?

NUMBER 2 -- Should McCook levy an additional one-half percent sales tax to reduce the loan for the McCook Army Air Base?, and:

NUMBER 3 -- Should the sales tax (or taxes) have a "sunset date," meaning should there be a time when the tax expires and must be voted on again in order for it to be continued?

Now that the council and the city administration have brought the issue to the public's attention, it's important that citizens offer their input. And time is of the essence. In order for the issue to be voted on at a May 6 special election, the final wording on the ballot question must be presented to the county clerk by March 14. That's only three and a half weeks away.

Because of the importance of the sales tax issue being approved, the council members have a huge responsibility to place an issue on the ballot that meet's the public's wishes.

What are those wishes? Based on comments we have heard since the sales tax plan was presented, the public's top priorities include:

- Paying off the remaining debt on the air base land. This is a heavy cloud hanging over the city. It needs to be cleared up as soon as possible, and then the city needs to move on.

- Keeping the sales tax at the one-cent level. We need to pay off the air base debt and control property taxes, but -- in doing so -- we need to be as conservative as possible.

- Setting a sunset date for the sales tax. The sales tax is needed now because of pressing city concerns, but voters deserve to decide whether the tax on sales should continue in the future.

The council needs to pay close attention to these and other citizen concerns. A sales tax is needed in McCook, but the plan submitted must be tailored to meet the wishes of the voting and taxpaying citizens.

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