Franklin County officials say they are moving forward with a sales tax referendum on the April ballot, but some municipalities aren’t pleased with the timing.
The largest of those cities is Washington, which will have a capital improvement sales tax extension on the April ballot, and city officials said they are concerned they learned about the county’s plans just before they were released to the public Dec. 12.
At a meeting Monday, Washington city administrator Darren Lamb and Mayor Sandy Lucy met with the three Franklin County commissioners to clear the air and get more information.
Although Washington’s tax referendum is an extension of an existing tax, officials feel the county’s tax appearing on the same ballot may scare voters into voting against both.
“We would rather it (Proposition P) not be on the April ballot,” Lamb said. “Our capital improvement tax is vital to our budget.”
The county is proposing a new half-cent sales tax to fund renovations/expansion to the county jail and 911 facility, and supplement law enforcement salaries countywide.
The tax is estimated to generate $6 million per year and half would go toward paying for the $30 million jail project.
The other half would be distributed to the sheriff and other police departments in the county on either a population or per officer basis.
The county sales tax has no sunset provision and after the jail is paid off, the extra money would go toward continued operational expenses.
In his message to the county commission, Lamb said he would like the county to consider sitting on the tax and would like some sort of contract with the county to ensure more supplemental law enforcement support from the sheriff’s department.
“Such an agreement will require more discussion between the county and municipalities, but could be worked out in the near future,” Lamb said. “However, until such details are worked out, it would be difficult for the city of Washington to throw 100 percent support behind the tax initiative.”
Lamb added Washington has lost police officers to higher wages in other municipalities and understands the need of a safeguard to keep quality officers in Washington and the county.
The half-cent Proposition P sales tax would be divided in half to fund two separate needs.
A quarter cent of the tax, or approximately $3 million, will go toward the jail. The other quarter cent will go toward salaries for all law enforcement agencies in the county.
“It is our understanding at this time, the quarter-cent sales tax would be distributed based upon the number of officers employed by each municipality and the sheriff’s office,” Lamb said. “Based upon the formula, the city of Washington would receive approximately $360,000 per year from the tax while contributing $1.1 million from commercial businesses.”
Lamb also used Washington’s capital improvement tax as an example of effective sunset clauses and requested the county consider placing one in the Proposition P ballot language.
“The city has imposed sunsets on two of our sales taxes,” Lamb said. “The city has found it provides citizen engagement every eight years and allows our community to grade how the city spent the money promised in the previous term.”
County Commissioners John Griesheimer, Dave Hinson and Tim Brinker all said they were willing to further discuss the issues raised by Lamb. At the same time, they reiterated Proposition P will be on the April ballot.
“There is no way we can put it on anything but the April ballot,” Griesheimer said. “If we waited until August, there would be no time to try again in November. None of this has been hidden since we started these discussions. In order for anything to get passed, we all have to work together.”
Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson said waiting for August would just be making a current problem four months worse.
“We’ve always said April was what we were shooting for,” Hinson said. “I don’t think this has ever been hidden. How long do we continue the law enforcement catch and release because there in no space?”
Hinson added if Proposition P is passed in April, the county and municipalities would begin seeing money as early as October. If delayed until August, the money would not come in until January 2019, delaying the overall project time line four to six months.
First district Commissioner Tim Brinker assured the Washington delegation he and his colleagues want to see both ballot issues be successful and is willing to discuss and compromise on all of the issues Lamb brought up.
“We want to make sure this is nothing but good for everyone,” Brinker said. “We want to do this responsibly and responsively. We understand other municipalities have tax issues.”
Brinker added all of the parties involved are guilty of not communicating properly and assured everyone in the room that would not be an issue moving forward.
He added the commission also has scrapped plans to ask for a use tax on the April ballot to replace the existing 911 tax.
“It’s been proven historically April is our best opportunity to pass things like this,” Brinker said. “This issue is too big and we need to have one focus.”