Group to ask city to use portion of sales tax for infrastructureA group of Jamestown residents is circulating a petition in support of using half of the 1 percent sales tax for economic development on city infrastructure needs.
By: Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun
A group of Jamestown residents is circulating a petition in support of using half of the 1 percent sales tax for economic development on city infrastructure needs.
Speaking on behalf of the group, John Grabinger and Dean Remboldt said the petition drive was organized because of infrastructure problems that came to light during the flooding and high water releases this spring. Repairing or replacing portions of the sanitary sewer system plus work on the storm sewer system won’t come cheap.
“We saw there was a need and looked for a way to do it without raising taxes,” Remboldt said.
The petition is informal, merely requesting the City Council take whatever action is necessary to utilize one-half of the 1 percent sales tax for infrastructure-related issues. A half cent could bring in up to $1 million a year and would not cover the cost of the work needed.
“But it may help by leveraging other state or federal money,” Remboldt said.
“This will bridge the gap,” Grabinger said. “They can use it for matching funds. We need to give them the tools to work with.”
Although the petition’s not official, it is limited to city residents living here longer than 30 days and 18 years of age or older. The two men said an informal petition was a quicker way to get the job done. A formal petition would have taken months to ready.
“It was expediency,” Remboldt said. “We were fortunate to dodge the bullet this time; next year we might not be so lucky.”
“Our hope is to have the signatures by the (Finance and Legal) committee meeting,” Grabinger said. The meeting is Aug. 25.
Grabinger said an informal petition meant it wasn’t a demand that the city use the money for any specific infrastructure project.
“We’re not putting any parameters on it. We’re simply leaving it to the City Council to do what they see fit,” he said. “The petition will let them know the citizens support this.”
The group hopes to collect from 1,300 to 1,500 signatures, which would be more than the 1,200 total votes cast in the special election to extend the sales tax a few years ago. An official petition would initiate an amendment to the 1-cent sales tax ordinance. It would specifically dedicate a half cent to city infrastructure as a ballot issue.
“The city is home rule, so the City Council can change that use. Our petition says they can use up to half of the money (1 percent sales tax) for infrastructure,” Remboldt said.
For Jim Boyd, it’s premature to zero in on using economic development funds for city infrastructure. Although he’s president of the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board, he said the board has not discussed the issue, so he was commenting as a 34-year resident of the city.
“I’m not authorized to speak for the JSDC Board, but I do have some concerns as an individual,” he said. “I’m certainly sensitive to the need in our community, but at this stage of the game it’s ahead of the curve to jump into this.”
Boyd said he voted in favor of continued use of the 1 percent sales tax for economic development in the last special election on the issue. He questions an informal petition that apparently allows the City Council to decide.
“I voted for 1 cent to go to economic development and if we want to change that I think it needs to go back to the voters,” he said. “Then if the majority of residents want to do this, that’s what we’ll do.”
The ordinance that established the 1-cent sales tax refers to using funds for infrastructure. It’s been argued in the past that that means city infrastructure as well. Grabinger, a former City Council member, said he and then Mayor Charlie Kourajian brought the sales tax infrastructure issue to the council. They proposed using it for funding improvements to the main lift station, but the council took no action.
Boyd said he believes the funding is to be used in the creation of infrastructure needed for economic development, not maintenance of infrastructure. For example, $280,000 a year comes out of the sales tax fund to help pay for the new wastewater treatment plant, which went on line in 1996. That cost will continue until 2016.
“That brought Cavendish into Jamestown,” he said. “We spend money on infrastructure where there is none.”
JSDC CEO Connie Ova could not be reached for comment.
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org