Sales tax: JSDC, city committee to look at sales tax, other optionsThe City Council’s Public Works Committee voted 4-1 Thursday to form a committee to work on funding options with the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. for city infrastructure. The discussion started with those in favor of and those against using half, or about $1 million a year, of the 1 percent sales tax for economic development on infrastructure needs in the city now and in the future. But the needs cover a variety of sewer, water and wastewater issues the City Council is facing. Tax relief was also mentioned as a use for the funding.
By: Toni Pirkl, The Jamestown Sun
The City Council’s Public Works Committee voted 4-1 Thursday to form a committee to work on funding options with the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. for city infrastructure.
The discussion started with those in favor of and those against using half, or about $1 million a year, of the 1 percent sales tax for economic development on infrastructure needs in the city now and in the future. But the needs cover a variety of sewer, water and wastewater issues the City Council is facing. Tax relief was also mentioned as a use for the funding. At the same time, one of the most pressing issue mentioned is the ground water infiltration into old clay pipes in areas all along the river.
“We keep hearing that this is a near emergency, it’s critical and something must be done to avoid a catastrophic situation,” said Jim Boyd, JSDC Board president. “But so far we’ve seen no details on the plan.”
Councilman Pat Nygaard said the discussion has been mostly focused on the sanitary sewer system. The estimates vary from $9 million to $12 million to fix the immediate problem.
“But the storm water system, the water plant, the wastewater plant and the viaduct need repair … all at a cost of about $16 million,” Nygaard said. “But the sanitary sewer is critical. Even with the half percent it will take years to take care of the problems. The half cent won’t be enough.”
John Grabinger, one of the petition organizers, spoke in support of taking the half percent, saying more than 1,100 voters signed a petition telling the City Council to take the necessary action. He added that almost every person he talked to thought this was the way to go to take care of the infrastructure needs in the city.
“The use of this funding is a no-brainer,” Grabinger said.
By law, the council could have amended the 1 percent sales tax ordinance to take half of the funds. Many of those speaking wanted to see the issue go on the ballot.
“We have to decide if we want to override what the voters decided,” said Councilman Ken Schulz. “The people backing this make it sound like taking this sales tax money will fix it all. Not in reality.”
Jamestown resident Leslie Horgan said the community voted in 2005 to use the 1 percent sales tax exclusively for economic development. He said he didn’t want to see that change.
“I haven’t heard anything here that says the 1 percent sales tax won’t be used for city infrastructure,” he said. “So give the public the right to vote on it.”
Councilwoman Kelani Parisien suggested a committee of City Council members and staff working with the JSDC Board members and staff on options. She said the council is looking at a huge amount of money to fix infrastructure and that means also looking at a number of different funding sources.
“We’ve started to work together and I want to see that continue,” she said. “Economic development and infrastructure go hand in hand.”
Boyd also wanted the JSDC and council to work together on the issue. He said the JSDC approach is as the city’s partner, but that includes having enough information to make decisions.
“Let’s slow down the process and analyze the potential options,” he said. “We can constructively go over the plan and come to an agreement we can live with. We want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.”
Mayor Clarice Liechty was against forming a committee. She insisted the committee, made up of two council members and two JSDC Board members plus staff, would be a violation of the open meeting law. Before City Administrator Jeff Fuchs could explain, she called a recess to get an attorney general’s opinion on the issue. She read it to the room full of people.
“No side deals. You don’t get to negotiate behind closed doors,” Liechty said.
Fuchs said any meetings the committee holds will be open meetings, so there would be no violation.
The mayor was the lone vote against. In a 3-2 vote she and Councilman Charlie Kourajian voted against Parisien and Nygaard as representatives on the committee.
“Only good can come from meeting like this,” Nygaard said. “It will be beneficial to look at different options in an informal setting.”
“And in a working meeting like this there may be some other ideas on funding,” Parisien said.
The committee is charged with looking at a variety of options with its recommendations going back to the council.
“I would only hope that you would remember the desires of the signers of the petition,” Grabinger said.
Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at email@example.com