Letter to the Editor

Sales tax use questioned

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dear Editor,

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.


Todd Cappel,


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  • You make many valid points, I say use the 1/2 million to pave some of the worst kept streets around. What ever happened to a little preventive maintance? The city used to seal the cracks to keep water out of them during the melt/freeze cycle each fall/winter. We have had more potholes lately than I can ever remember. Don't blame it all on lack of snow for many years, blame in on the city's lack of maintance on the streets. I also just love the way they fill in the pot holes. A little 4x8 trailer with enough mix to fix about 2 good size potholes and then back to the shop for another load, while there is usually 2 or 3 "workers' in the pickup. Take away a break before and after lunch, no wonder the potholes are never fixed! At least use a bigger trailer for the mix, so they do not have to make so many trips back to the shop for more material. Mr. Potthoff said that sealing the cracks was not cost effective, and by whose authority or knowledge was this determined? If that is the case then why do all the states around us, seal cracks before winter? Seems like the highways hold up better when the cracks are sealed.

    Anyway I agree with Mr. Cappel, we have a lot more needs for that money!!! And per Harphems list of reasons why to move from the present location he said the present location was unsafe due to the fact it is located close to the railroad and also the feedmill etc. Sorry but the "new location" is only about 2 blocks from the old place, way too close according to Harphems logic.

    -- Posted by goarmy67 on Fri, Aug 1, 2008, at 1:11 PM
  • The sales tax meetings did point to reducing the water/sewer debt but those were not the only items on the table. Improving infrastructure---like a safety center--was also on the table. Had past council's not drug their feet the city would not have faced multi-million dollar fines and higher priced remedies to the water/sewer problems. Now the council catches heck for being pro-active in meeting future expenses. Todd seems to talk like Obama. On one hand he says we need the new safety center and that he even voted for it. On the other he says the council should not set dollars aside to start the project. The $500k is a reserve that "could" be used for a new safety center but my best guess would be that if $100K if left after other projects are targeted, that would be huge. Additionally, IF money was set aside at the rate of $500k for even five years, that would probably still not be enough--considering construction costs are rising--so a bond issue would still be needed. It is also my understanding--and somebody correct me if I am wrong--that Mr. Cappel's customers do not pay city sales tax and Cappel's moved their business outside the city limits but still enjoy the benefits of the city. This would pose the question as to how much he really is a supporter of the city.

    -- Posted by dennis on Wed, Aug 6, 2008, at 2:36 PM
  • Todd, thanks for contacting me. I always would rather have direct communication rather that firing shots through the media. It is my understanding that the business run by the Cappel's have ALWAYS been outside the city limits and you support having a new public safety center but to have it NOT funded by sales taxes but bonded.

    -- Posted by dennis on Thu, Aug 7, 2008, at 8:53 AM
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