Washington’s future capital projects will be debated for the next several weeks by a newly formed committee.
With the city’s half-cent sales tax devoted to capital projects set to expire next year, the city formed a committee to review if voters should be asked to continue the tax for another term and with identifying potential projects that could be used if voters renew it.
The committee met for the first time Tuesday afternoon. Members include Mayor Sandy Lucy, city councilmen Joe Holtmeier and Greg Skornia, Kurt Voss, Diane Jones, Chris Eckelkamp, John Vietmeier, Jennifer Giesike, Dan Cassette, Fire Chief Bill Halmich, Bill Straatmann, Gretchen Pettet and Jeanne Miller Wood.
City Administrator Darren Lamb laid out a time line for committee members on when they need to take action. Lamb said traditionally the city has put the sales tax on the ballot for the April municipal election.
To ensure placement on the ballot, the city council will have to approve an ordinance sometime in December. The council has the final say on putting the measure on the ballot, but Lamb said ideally he’d like a vote of support from the committee.
Early on in the meeting it was clear the majority of the board favored seeking voter approval to continue the tax, however, no formal vote was taken.
In order to be ready for a December decision, the committee agreed to conduct weekly meetings at least until the end of November. The committee will meet every Tuesday at 1 p.m. in the council chambers as needed.
The committee also plans to hold a public forum at some point in order to get input from the community. Additionally, a survey will be included in the November utility bill.
Sales Tax Background
Voters first approved the sales tax in 1989 on a five-year plan. Since then it’s been reapproved every time it has been up for renewal.
Lamb said the last three taxing periods have been for eight-year terms. The most recent sales tax passed in 2010 with 69 percent of voters in favor of the extension.
The half-cent tax proceeds are used to fund projects that may otherwise not have a chance of getting done. The last eight years of the tax have generated $16,001,528 for the city.
Lamb said the tax is vital for city operations.
“I don’t want to say we would be crippled, but we would be hurting,” he said.
Past projects paid for by the sales tax include the new Washington Public Library, construction of the Public Safety building, renovations to city hall and construction of multiple fire stations.
The tax also has traditionally been used to pay for numerous projects on the parks’ properties, like construction of the main stage at the fairgrounds and buying up land for the new western expansion of the Rotary Riverfront Trail.
The parks department is often the recipient of funds because it lacks a revenue source like other departments. Lamb said the street department, for example, has its own sales tax to fund improvements and the water department has regular billing of residents.