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Sales tax: Committee rejects taking 50 percent for city

The City Council's Finance and Legal Committee Tuesday rejected taking 50 percent of the 1-cent sales tax for infrastructure or putting the measure on the ballot.

At Mayor Clarice Liechty's request that was placed on the agenda, Councilwoman Ke-lani Parisien reported on the pro-gress of the Sales Tax Subcommittee regarding the use of the city's sales tax for sanitary sewer system repair and replacement. Parisien, who serves on the subcommittee, said that after looking at several scenarios the subcommittee had determined sales tax funding should increase the city's share of special assessments from 10 percent to 25 percent. What is going back to the Jamestown/Stutsman Development Corp. Board from the subcommittee is a request for 30 percent of the city sales tax. The JSDC would also continue its annual payment of $280,000 toward the city's wastewater treatment plant.

"That comes to between 43 and 45 percent of the sales tax revenue," Parisien said. "It would be an annual budget item to be discussed because the numbers are not set in stone. The sales tax revenue could go up or down. But we want to maintain the 25 percent city share of specials without taking more than half of the sales tax revenue."

The mayor questioned the need for the subcommittee to decide. She lectured Parisien on the subcommittee and city infrastructure needs until Councilman Ken Schulz called a point of order. He said Parisien had reported on the subcommittee's progress.

"That's the agenda item. This is not," Schulz said.

Local resident John Grabinger questioned what happens to the $280,000 after 2016 when the wastewater treatment plant is paid off. He said the council should make sure the $280,000 continues to fund the city's share of specials.

Also on the agenda at Liechty's request was consideration of a ballot measure to just take half of the sales tax fund. Liechty's motion was that the City Council should vote to take 50 percent, about $1 million, of the sales tax fund now. Further, she said, the council should extend the sales tax to 2022 and not put the issue on the ballot. The tax ends in 2012 unless it's approved by voters or by the City Council.

"We can wait until after the subcommittee makes its recommendation," said Councilman Charlie Kourajian, the Finance and Legal Committee chair.

Local resident Dean Remboldt and Grabinger urged the committee not to wait but to take the money and extend the sales tax.

"We can't move as quickly as some people would like," Schulz said. "We have to follow laws, requirements and codes. This is not something we can just snap our fingers and say start digging."

In a 3-1 vote the mayor was the only supporter of the motion. Councilman Pat Nygaard was absent.

Then the mayor moved to put taking 50 percent of the 1-cent sales tax on the ballot. It died for lack of a second.

An item tabled at the last City Council meeting changing the city administrator's job description to read "works under the administrative direction of the City Council" rather than the mayor, went down to defeat. Schulz was the only committee member to vote for the change. Liechty argued the decision to change the job description was due to complaints about her. She asked what the mayor had done and why the issue was raised now.

"Is it a complaint from the city administrator or someone else? Or is it some other issue?" she said. "I can only believe that this is a complaint from the city administrator or Mr. Nygaard, who works for the Jamestown Hospital Board chairman."

Parisien said the council members based their decision on an attorney general's opinion. A weak mayor and strong council are tenets of a modern council, which the Jamestown City Council is, she said. In that type of council the mayor doesn't direct city staff or the city attorney to work or not work on a particular project. Liechty had ordered city staff not to work on the Jamestown Hospital project until she was satisfied regarding the easements.

"You weren't at the meetings where we discussed all this," Parisien said.

The committee voted 3-1 to drop the job description change. Kourajian said he liked it the way it is. Parisien wants "administrative direction" clarified so neither a mayor nor a council member can ignore a majority vote of the council.

"Day-to-day administrative direction doesn't mean directing individuals on projects that come before the council," she said.

Sun reporter Toni Pirkl can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by e-mail at