Sales tax use questioned
Let's begin by asking this question of the registered voters of McCook who cast votes during the special ballot initiative nine short months ago.
If you knew of the $500,000 sales tax surplus and the plans to build a public safety center with the sales tax proceeds would you still have voted for it?
It is an interesting question, isn't it, and now we are being told that McCook needs a new public safety center. Why wasn't this specifically mentioned during the "How should we spend all of the sales tax money to save McCook?" debate?
I am not completely surprised by this, as we witnessed the push for more taxes in the form of the cell phone tax just five short months after the increase and extension of the city sales tax.
It was deemed as the thing to do because every other community has done it and it helped increase revenues to other city coffers. I am sorry, but with all due respect, where is the leadership in that? I mean, just following suit with other communities in tax-raising schemes?
I felt a majority of the council responded appropriately.
How about creating a model here in McCook for others to follow, such as a limited form of government that respects the taxpayers?
Raising taxes is easy compared to the hard decisions of setting priorities, saying no, and being honest about how you intend to spend the money the taxpayer has trusted you with.
I feel that it was easier for the city to impose the sales tax than to raise property taxes for the things McCook needs because someone else was footing the bill -- "Southwest Nebraska."
Rather than be grateful that McCook is a trade center, they exploit it by telling those outside the city you need to pay more to come to McCook and spend your hard-earned dollar.
Sure, as a resident of McCook I benefited from the property tax relief but at whose expense? All of us should thank those outside of McCook who subsidize our property taxes and one way of doing that is to not spend this sales tax money for something that should be paid for by the residents of McCook.
If I recall, the major push for the sales tax increase and 10-year extension was for paying down the water treatment facility debt and investing in infrastructure that delivers the newly-treated water to the city. Yes, I remember at the special meeting that was the overwhelming response from those who attended, not to take $500,000 to begin the process of building a new public safety center.
Now the city staff has decided to reset the priorities of the sales tax revenue in a typical bait and switch.
First, it was the purchase of the old West Ward building and now the city officials are moving forward with designs to opt out of asking for permission, in the form of a ballot initiative, to build a multi-million dollar public safety center.
Here was the ballot language in November of 2007:
The first asks if the current one-cent tax should be continued, with the proceeds split between property tax relief and repairing city infrastructure, such as streets, parks or water and sewer improvements.
The second question asks for an additional half-cent tax, with half of the proceeds, at $325,000, to go toward the city to be used for water/sewer improvements, buy-down of water and sewer improvements and an economic development program.
The third question asks to establish an economic development program that would be administered under the McCook Economic Development Corp. and the city. The question includes seven sections that outline conditions and goals of how the $325,000 will be used
I did not see anywhere in that language then and/or now that the sales tax revenue should be used for a new public safety center.
The only thing close is "repairing city infrastructure" and I attended the second sales tax projects meeting and that was directed toward the water lines not a new public safety center. Shouldn't we invest the $500,000 toward the debt of the water treatment facility? I say once that debt is paid off completely, then move forward on asking the voters to bond a new public safety center. Do not use a blank check from the 10-year city sales tax account. What kind of message are we sending our young people? Here we have this huge debt so we can have a safe water supply, but let's build something else before we pay it off.
I voted to increase my property taxes back in 2006 for the new public safety center, but the majority in a regular election decided against it, 2-1. Now the "City Staff" feel they have a mandate from a "Majority of the Minority" in an off-year election for the city sales tax to begin to build a public safety center.
What do I mean by "Majority of the Minority"? Low voter turnout in a special off year election and it passed handily. I do agree to the point that the public safety center needs to be addressed, but not in this manner.
If a project of this magnitude is so important, then the city council and staff should go to the voters in November and ask for permission from the taxpayers to build it with a bonded levy and invest the sales tax revenue in the things that were discussed prior to the special election vote.
The point is that the city officials don't want to ask nor do they feel it is necessary now that they have the 1.5 percent sales tax revenue. So they will just do as they please unless the citizens of McCook speak up. For those of you that voted against the new public safety center less than two years ago, where are you now?
I would think this would be an outrage and a violation of the principles of a representative republic.
My question to the council and staff is why not ask the taxpayers on a ballot this November? If it passes then there will be no controversy, plus, it won't even cost the taxpayers $5,000 to ask the question because it will be done during a regular election.
Here is the real issue and why it is so important to contact the City Council. If the city spends $500,000 to begin the design and engineering of a new public safety center, the argument will be to continue to fund it with the sales tax revenues so we don't waste the initial investment.
Now is the time to speak up about this and demand that the city spends this new sales tax revenue how it was sold to the voters.
Taxpayers of McCook, remember something else, the reserves that the city is building every year in each budget decrease the amount you get to put in your own reserve (i.e. savings account, retirement accounts, etc.)
Those are your dollars being held from you as a taxpayer and I, for one, feel that I am better equipped to invest it than the government.
Those reserves chip away at the sense of accountability that comes from a limited form a government. Anything can be deemed an emergency, like a new public safety center.