By Timothy Cox
Celina voters will decide Nov. 2 whether the city's income tax will increase by 0.5 percent.
City council members finalized a resolution to place the issue on the ballot during a special meeting Monday. Council members debated for more than two hours about the scope of what tax revenue could be spent on, how the issue would be perceived by the public and even the grammar of the ballot language.
The resolution passed by a 5-2 vote with council members Rick Bachelor and Calvin "June" Scott voting against it. Both dissenters said they are not sure the timing is right for the tax issue to go before voters.
"I'm not against the tax, but I don't think the timing's right," Scott said after the meeting. "There's a lot of issues still out there."
"I think whether or not we need to be asking for a 50 percent increase is still to be seen," Bachelor said, referring to a projected $533,000 general fund deficit that he said might not even materialize. "I believe government that governs least, governs best." The estimated $1.2 million in tax revenue the additional 0.5 percent would generate if passed would be spent in a number of areas. It would be used to fund the vacant code enforcement officer position in the city engineering department and to address the city's problems with streets and other infrastructure. The new funding also would be tapped to meet fire and police department expenses if other city streams of revenue decrease or are eliminated. As a late amendment to the tax proposal, the revenue also could be used to retire debt on the new fire truck the city purchased a couple of years ago.
If approved by voters, the new tax would run for six years, beginning in 2005.
Council members talked in depth about numerous aspects of the proposed tax.
Some questioned whether the code enforcement position is absolutely necessary.
"Are we in a state of condition that warrants a full-time position for this?" council member Christopher Mohler asked.
"It is a full-time job in a community of this size," community development consultant Kent Bryan said. "At some point, we need to choose to be aggressive."
The code enforcement officer would be responsible for preparing court cases against violators of the city's weed, junk car and zoning regulations. The position also would manage a registry of contractors working inside the city if council members follow through with a plan to create that system.
Council members also talked extensively about whether any of the proposed new tax should be used to retire general fund debt. Auditor Pat Smith said the general fund has about $220,000 in annual payments that go toward the fire truck and the Grand Lake Industrial Park land and infrastructure at that site.
They decided to limit any debt retirement done with new tax money to the fire truck payment. Bryan urged council members to limit the scope of debt retirement so the public fully understands council's intentions.
If uses for the tax are too wide ranging, council member Collin Bryan said, some residents might suspect the money will go toward things like lakefront revitalization, an issue that has "fallen out of public favor."
In other last-minute amendments to the tax resolution, council members added the word "construction" to go with the words repair and replacement so that new infrastructure also can be funded with the tax revenue. They deleted sanitary sewers from the ballot language because sewer fees are supposed to generate enough revenue on their own to handle replacement and repair of sewer lines.
Kent Bryan has been given the task by Mayor Sharon LaRue of hosting informational meetings for the public leading up to the Nov. 2 vote.