As promised, here is a verbatim copy of my email that I just sent off to the Searcy mayor & city council:
I enjoyed our visit yesterday about funding options for the bypass project. My hope is that the council will comb through the budget & put together a plan that will find the necessary $3 million over the next 3 years’ budgets. I do not recall the city ever passing on a $500,000 or $1 million firetruck whenever it has been proposed suddenly. My point is, they always seem to find the money when they really want to. So I tend to think that the city could find $3 million for this bypass project over the next 3 years and present that plan to the highway commission before years end.
But I am also realistic and I realize that, given the public comments made by the majority of the council, the council intends to pass a tax tonight. While I still think this is an unconscionable time to consider raising taxes, it seems inevitable, so I appreciate your desire, Mr. Mayor, to make the proposal as amicable to everyone as possible.
Here is what I would like to see in a tax proposal:
- Sunrise & Sunset. I know the council has promised to sunset the tax–I hope this will be a real sunset, an automatic sunset in the language of the ordinance–but I additionally propose a sunrise clause. Under this plan, the council would pass the tax and place the issue at a special election this year, but the tax would not go into effect until January 2013. This would give the economy more time to improve and it would show that the council is sensitive to the real economic pain that people are feeling right now. It will also give the highway commission the commitment they are asking for now.
I know when we spoke yesterday, Mr. Mayor, there was some question about whether or not this sunrise concept could be implemented without violating state law.
According to 26-75-207, Section D, which covers rules for municipal sales & use taxes for capital improvements, the tax can be implemented in this way:
“(2) The effective date of the ordinance or petition delayed under subdivision (d)(1) of this section shall:
(A) Be scheduled on the first day of the first month of a calendar quarter; and
(B) Not be delayed for more than thirty-six (36) months after the date the ordinance or petition would be effective under § 26-75-209(1)(D)(ii).
The full text can be read here: http://law.justia.com/codes/arkansas/2010/title-26/subtitle-6/chapter-75/subchapter-2/26-75-207/
I assume the tax that is forthcoming will be a sales & use tax for capital improvement, rather than a general sales tax, since this tax is for the purposes of capital improvements. If the council is serious about using the money only for infrastructure, this capital improvement structure is more than suitable and will allow for delayed implementation of the tax. I think this sound policy that will allow the economy more time to recover but also show the highway commission the ‘commitment’ they are asking for.
- Take only what you need. I do think that, politically, it would be best served for the council to ask for the $3 million for the bypass now and come back and ask for the additional money for the arterial roads later, but this seems to be off the table and I expect the council will ask for the full amount now. In that case, I do not expect to see a proposal that is projected to bring in more than $6-$8 million, more than enough for the arterial improvements.
- Earmark every penny. When I say every penny, I mean all of them. The council should be more than willing to put together a plan that prioritizes how the money should be spent. Main street should be first, then Davis drive. Excess money at that point should be used for sidewalks down these streets. If those projects are completed, other roads which touch the bypass should be improved. Not Country Club Road or Golf Course Drive–only roads that are truly arteries to the bypass. All of this should be spelled out specifically in the ordinance, including street names and sequential order of construction, so there is no confusion or Searcy voters can be assured that the money will be spent in the right way.
I also dislike & distrust this entire idea of ‘special elections.’ I think they are a misuse of taxpayer money and usually a backdoor into something that the people do not like. However, I can see that the highway department has convinced the city that this is an urgent issue that ‘must be addressed now.’ While I still disagree and that idea contradicts other public comments that the highway commission has made, I will concede that point for now.
I am sure this email comes as quite a surprise to some of the council members who think I am “against everything” or that I “hate Searcy, hate progress.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What I desire is real progress, and real progress requires transparency & openness with the voters. I know you agree, Mr. Mayor, and I can see that you have already taken steps to make the city more responsive to the people. I hope the council will follow your lead & enact my 3 proposals that I have mentioned here. If they do, they will not only get this tax, but they can begin to repair the large breach of trust that has formed over the last several years between the people and their government–a breach that truly is keeping us from real progress.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to seeing you tonight at the meeting.
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