It was a change in course at the Alliance City Council meeting, as council members voted against putting the option of implementing a half-cent sales tax in Alliance on the ballot during the May 12 primary.
During a special meeting a week prior to their regular meeting, council members voted 4-1 to proceed with drafting the language that would appear on the ballot, ensuring the funds would only be used for streets. Mayor Mike Dafney voted against the motion at the special meeting, noting the funds should be able to be used in emergency situations for special projects.
At the regular meeting, City Manager Jeff Sprock asked council to reconsider only allowing funds to be used for the streets.
“I understand the direction that council has given us,” said Sprock. “I would like to point out that sales tax is one of the fairest taxes that can be done out there. It’s not just money from people in our community, but from people who come and do business in our community. With that being said, we’re talking about the potential of $6 million over 10 years. We don’t know all the different emergencies, or capital costs that are coming down the pike.
“There are some big things: replacing the HVAC system at the library, the West Third Street redevelopment project the CRA is working on,” Sprock said. “While streets are the significant need for our community, there may be other capital projects council may want to spend this money. Having the ability to use the half-cent sales tax on other capital projects allows us to continue to keep our mill levy, our property tax at a lower level. I will go with what you guys recommended. I will fully support that, but I think having some flexibility for staff and council is beneficial to the city with the half-cent sales tax.”
Council member Earl Jones rebutted Sprock’s statement, noting he would not support using the tax for anything but streets.
“We’re going to be right back where we are now,” said Jones. “It just eats up this money, and it will be gone, and the streets will be just like they are. If we want our streets to stay in top condition, it’s not a one-shot deal. We’re already three years into the last mill and overlay, so we’re two years away from when we should chip seal it if we want our streets to stay in good condition.”
Jones said he believes that while other projects may improve the city, the condition of the city’s streets must be addressed.
“Third Street redevelopment is nice, but it’s nice—it’s not necessary,” Jones said. “If we don’t take care of these streets, it’s just going to get more expensive. This is the danger. We’re already finding things we can do with that money, so, pretty quick, the streets are going to be back there again. As soon as the potholes are filled, and people can drive on them, they’re going to be out of mind until they’re done.
“That being said, if everybody can’t get behind this and support it, then we should say no,” said Jones. “But I want to say, I won’t support anything different than this. In fact, I will vocally oppose it.”
Jones noted he believes that the cost of putting the item on the ballot, $5,000-$6,000, would not be worth it if the council members are not all in favor of the measure.
“I will literally vocally oppose this if it’s not streets, because that money will go away and our streets will be a mess again,” said Jones.
Dafney asked Jones about an amendment to the ballot language allowing the money to be used for other infrastructure, but making the streets a priority.
“That’s already true,” Jones responded. “We approve capital projects every year. We’re already talking about winning the election, and West Third Street is really nice, and I like what they’ve designed, and I’ve seen some of that: it’s beautiful. But, it’s not necessary. Streets are necessary. We’re already walking away from something we’ve got to have, and saying, let’s soften this approach. We can always find something that’s nice. We can always find something that’s better. But streets are a reality, people.”
Dafney suggested an amendment that would require a super majority of council members to approve using the money for infrastructure projects other than streets.
“I’m only on council for two more years,” said Jones. “You’re asking me to make a commitment for 10 years, and I don’t trust that.”
“I’m voting no on this then, from a business standpoint,” said Dafney. “I’m not going to vote for this to tie my hands if an emergency comes up, or to tie the hands of future councils.”
Council Member Annora Bentley noted she has given the measure a lot of thought since voting in favor of proceeding with the measure at the special meeting.
“I think we all agree, streets are the priority,” said Bentley. “However, if something major comes up (…), perhaps we set aside say 75 percent of that money has to go to streets, but then we have 25 percent if we have an emergency, some huge thing that we cannot afford. But, if it doesn’t come up, then, certainly, use all 100 percent for streets, but that at least doesn’t tie us down if something comes up and we have scramble to try to find money. I’m a little nervous about tying everything into one motion that we cannot wiggle out of.”
“Then that’s pretty poor management,” Jones responded. “If we have those emergencies and we don’t have a plan for them, then we’re not doing a good job of running this business.”
Dafney noted that some emergencies, such as repairing damage from a tornado, can not be planned for. Jones responded, “There’s always something.”
Council Member Ryan Reynolds noted those are discussions to have at the time of an emergency.
“The HVAC system goes out at the library, then you hash that out when it happens,” Reynolds. “But, we’re not going to be able to hash anything out if we’re not flexible. I cannot get behind this if it’s not flexible. If there is so many stipulations on this, then I just don’t feel comfortable with this. I don’t feel right with it. I also don’t feel right if we, as a council, can’t trust ourselves, and we, as a council, cannot trust future councils, then what are we doing here?”
“It’s a reality, buddy,” Jones responded. “Government expands to take the money plus five to 10 percent.”
Council Member Brian Mischnick noted the tax is meant for a specific project.
“It’s a special tax for a specific purpose,” said Mischnick. “We should know where it’s going. We should be prepared for a disaster, or whatever, through insurance and our current reserves.”
The council voted down the motion to approve the ballot measure, with Mischnick as the only council member who voted in favor of it.