Sales tax public forum set for tonight at Legion Hall
A public forum Monday at the Baldwin City Council meeting is hoped to be educational, both for the council and those who attend.
The forum on the two sales tax questions that voters will decide on Nov. 3 is scheduled for the start of the 7:30 p.m. meeting in the American Legion Hall. Voters are being asked to extend the current half-cent sales tax for use on a laundry list of infrastructure improvements, as well as add a quarter-cent sales tax to be used for “quality of life” improvements.
Mayor Ken Wagner says he wants voters to express their wants and he also wants them to hear why the taxes are needed.
“It’s important because the city council is interested in hearing from the public what they’d like to see done with improvements infrastructure- and quality-of-life-wise,” said Wagner. “It’s important that voters become educated on the ballot questions and if they vote yes what the city council will be able to do with the funds generated from the sales tax revenue.”
The current half-cent sales tax has generated around $170,000 per year, which was used to pay off the swimming pool early. It ends because that’s what voters approved the tax to be used for. The council doesn’t want to see a repeat of a specific item used for the tax.
Wagner cited several infrastructure projects that will have to be done in coming years, most notably improvements to Sixth Street north from U.S. Highway 56 to the lake road. Douglas County will be widening the road and adding curb and guttering. The city’s portion of the project will be infrastructure improvements, such as sewer and water lines, and adding sidewalks. Cost of that to the city is estimated at $1.5 million.
“That’s a project that’s a good example of why the voters should vote for this,” he said. “If we can get the $170,000 coming in, we can bond that project and get the money through sales tax. If we don’t have that, we’ll have to bond it and pay for it with property tax. That’s the reality.”
Wagner also pointed to the many people who come here for sporting events, Baker University events, the many celebrations such as the Maple Leaf Festival and other reasons throughout the year.
“I think we’re missing the boat if we don’t get the penny off a $5 purchase off a person from De Soto who is in town for a ball tournament or something else to help pay for our infrastructure,” he said. ”The people here pay 100 percent of the property tax here, but with sales tax people from out of town pay that and it’s not 100 percent.
“It’s the only chance to get the people to help pay for these infrastructure improvements.”
The same holds true with “quality of life” improvements. He said those could be the addition of trails throughout the city and improvements to existing parks, which have been recommended. Those issues could also be improvements to the library and historical sites.
“These are things they are going to see for years and years to come,” said Wagner. “If the voters approve these questions, the tax has to go to capital improvements. It can’t go for operations.”
He said the council would prefer to hear from the taxpayers what they want done with the money and make a list of those, rather than list specific projects on the ballot that will end.
“I understand the concerns about being specific,” said Wagner. “But if you get specific, you get what happened with the pool. We are giving specifics with the Sixth Street project.”
Other infrastructure projects on the horizon are widening and improving Elm and 11th streets, bridge replacement and sewer line improvements.
“There’s just a whole list of infrastructure to look at,” he said.