City council wants to educate voters on sales tax election
Getting the word out ahead of the Nov. 3 election on sales tax questions was the main concern for the Baldwin City Council at its meeting Monday night.
Mayor Ken Wagner said that the plan now is for a town hall meeting in mid October, a press release and a direct mail piece to everyone in town to explain the need to continue the current half-cent sales tax, as well as explaining a separate ballot question for an additional quarter-cent sales tax.
“As a governing body and as city government, we need to put the facts out,” said Wagner, who said another public meeting will be Oct. 6 concerning the Parks Master Plan. “Then we’ll have a town meeting in a week to a week and a half on the sales tax.”
No date has been set for the town hall meeting, but several options were discussed. One would have it as a part of the council’s regular Oct. 19 meeting. The other two possibilities are Oct. 20 and Oct. 22.
Wagner then asked the council what was important to get out to the voters.
“The feedback I’m getting is they want specifics,” said Council Member Bonnie Plumberg, regarding what the money would be used for. “I think that’s what the public wants to see.”
Council Member Ted Brecheisen, Jr., said people he talks to don’t understand that the present half-cent sales tax was used specifically to pay off the $1 million-plus swimming pool. The tax generated around $180,000 a year, which was more than expected, and allowed the pool to be paid off early. However, because it was earmarked for only the pool, the tax will end March 31.
“Some people don’t realize that the half-cent tax has gone to the pool,” said Brecheisen. “Some people don’t realize that it wouldn’t affect the city budget.”
The council voted earlier to use the half-cent sales tax to fund infrastructure projects that are looming for the city. If the sales tax isn’t passed, the mill levy would have to be used more for those projects and tax rates would go up. The council has said the quarter-cent tax would go to “quality of life” projects, such as recreation and possibly the library. However, specifics on those projects haven’t been identified.
“At the town hall meeting, we would give them some specifics on the sales tax issues,” said Wagner, adding that would also be included in the direct-mail piece, as well as comparisons to other cities’ sales tax rates.
Currently, Baldwin City’s sales tax rate of 7.3 cents is lower than that of most area towns. Gardner’s is at 8.25 cents, Ottawa’s is at 7.9, Lawrence’s 7.85 and Eudora’s 7.3. If the present half-cent tax ends, Baldwin City’s rate would dip to 6.8 cents.
Council members were torn on the direct-mail effort.
“I question spending the money to do that,” said Brecheisen.
Wagner said he didn’t know how much it would cost, but estimated it would cost less than $1,000.
“I think it’s the best way to ensure that people see the information,” said Council Member Mike Magers.
As for the town hall meeting, concerns were expressed about attendance.
“It’s important when we have the town hall meeting that there are people there on both sides of the sales tax issue,” said Wagner. “I have a concern about attendance, will it be five or will it be 50? I want to get all of the issues out on the table.”
He also briefed the council on the Parks Master Plan meeting that is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at the American Legion Hall. Wagner also told the council about winterization programs that he’s wanting the city to participate in, one for low-income families that could provide up to $6,500 per home and another that would be for anyone and would consist of low-interest loans.
“I think the two programs have some good opportunities to impact some people on fixed incomes to get help with energy costs,” he said.