Wednesday, August 13, 2014

TOP STORY >> Ward voters to decide sale-tax hike

Leader staff writer

Ward voters will decide in the November general election if they want a one-cent sales tax increase.

The city council voted 5-1 Monday night to put the tax revenue into the general fund, reversing a sales tax committee recommendation held last week to split the proceeds into two half-cent sales taxes — one for the street department and the other for the parks department.

Mayor Art Brooke told the council he did not want to tie the hands of the next mayor or city council members with the sales tax specifically designated for the streets or the parks. He said Ward would continue to grow. The council needs the flexibility to maintain, develop and institute programs while making changes to the budget throughout the year, he said.

Alderman Jeff Shaver was concerned about the future growth of Ward. He said that, after the parks are built and streets are maintained, extra money could not be touched because it is for the parks and the streets. He said the tax money could be used for extra police protection if needed.

“I would make the recommendation we go with a one-percent sales tax to be used in the general fund to support the (parks and street department). If (the voters) turn that down, we’re back to square one. That limits and severely handicaps future growth of our city. Our city has grown by leaps and bounds, and we need to take action,” Brooke said.

Alderman Charles Gastineau was the only vote against the sales tax to raise funds for the street department and the parks department. He wanted to look at a bond issue instead.

“I’m not satisfied with our exploring alternative avenues of revenue. We’re up against a time crunch here (to be on the November ballot). I don’t know why this was brought on just last month.”

Operations manager Debra Staley said, “For borrowing any money through a bank or a bond issue, we have to have a revenue stream showing that we can pay it back. Charlie, we don’t have a revenue stream showing we can pay it back.

“If the tax issue is passed, we can develop, build and pay as we go, according to the growth of the city. We can go out and build $2 million of stuff that nobody ever uses, and we’re still going to have the bill. If we go out and borrow the money, we still got to pay the interest,” the mayor said.

“We are at a point that we can’t progress in doing the things that are still needed for long-term growth in the city,” he added.

Brooke said, if the tax issue passes, in five years the city could look at passing a bond issue.

Street Department Superintendent Billy Mitts talked about why the sales tax increase is need for the street department.

“Ward consists of 114 streets, a third of the streets need attention, overlaying, paving or widening,” Mitts said.

Mitts said the cost of repairing 38 streets is $1.6 million. He said there is also a bridge on Spring Street that needs attention due to erosion.

There are 12 culverts that are deteriorating and 20 storm drains that are crushed in. There are an estimated 200 potholes that need filling, and 100 signs need to be maintained.

All the repairs are made by street department workers.

Mitts said the average cost to pave a street that is 22-feet wide and 2,000-feet long is $45,752. It requires 532 tons of asphalt that costs between $75 and $86 a ton.

According to Mitts, the street department is responsible for street maintenance, parking areas, ditches, bridges, culverts, sidewalks and mosquito control plus building maintenance of the Ward Municipal Complex, the animal shelter and the sewer treatment facility.

The department also does vehicle maintenance. He said the street department helps the parks department with maintenance, during special events, and storm damage cleanup. 

Parks director Ricci Brooke explained why more sales-tax revenue is needed for the parks. She said the city has three parks: Busby Lake, Ward Dog Park and Willow Lakes. Ricci Brooke would like to add playground equipment to Busby Lake.

She said Willow Lakes Pond has not been restocked with fish in several years. Walking trails with exercise stations are planned for the park.

She said the Ward Sports Complex needs two more ball field for a total of four.

Ricci Brooke said more parking spaces and permanent soccer fields are also needed.

The estimated cost for a new concession stand and restrooms is $94,700.

Extra sales-tax revenue will also allow the parks department to expand the sports complex by buying adjacent property in the future.