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November Initiative - City Wants Tax On Ballot

POSTED April 23, 2014 10:56 a.m.

Fearing a 17 percent cut in city services with the loss of current Measure O funds, the Oakdale City Council on Monday night voted 4-1 in favor of requesting the county to place an initiative basically extending the current sales tax measure another five years on the November ballot.

During the Monday, April 21 council meeting, Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer introduced the resolution which now goes to the county board of supervisors for the Nov. 4, 2014 Gubernatorial General Election.

“I’m not sure where else the cuts will come without Measure O being extended,” said Whitemyer after showing graphs displaying drops in sales tax and property tax revenues. “The city will not be able to maintain its current level of service without Measure O.”

Measure O was the ballot initiative that voters approved in November 2011 to have a half-cent sales tax for a period of three years. It is set to expire in April 2015.

Several speakers addressed the dais both for and against the half-cent sales tax assessment that brings in $1.5 million to city coffers annually.

Some rivals to the proposal cited that the city “sold” Measure O as a public safety tax that would maintain police and fire levels, yet within a year of passage, layoffs and personnel cuts occurred.

Others pointed out that the campaign for Measure O initially stated that the city needed only three years to recover and the tax was only “temporary.”

“Here we go again,” said Richard Jorgensen. “Tax and spend, tax and spend. Don’t place the burden of city management on our local merchants.”

Kent Higgins inquired how the length of five years was determined.

Councilman Don Petersen told the group five years was the assumption now that city finances would improve.

“We don’t want to come back in another two to three years to say, ‘we missed it again,’” Petersen said. “This is necessary to get the city through hardship.”

Frank Clark, one of the co-chairs of an ad-hoc committee that earlier this year made the recommendation for the extension, told the council that though the economy was improving, property tax revenues would not return to pre-2011 levels for many years.

“It is imperative that the citizens of Oakdale vote to continue the half-cent sales tax into the near future,” said Clark. “A failure to do so would bring such radical changes to the quality of life we all enjoy in Oakdale that we might very realistically, never see that quality again.”

Burchell Hill resident Mike Eggener said that it wasn’t the council deciding the tax increase, but the measure was only to let the voting members of the city decide.

While Mayor Pat Paul allowed some speakers in opposition to go far past the five minute speaking limit, or reappear to provide counterpoints even though they had already addressed the topic, council members fended off questions including one speaker who started to ask each council member individual questions regarding spending from items on the city’s check registrar.

“To ask us individual items line-by-line, may make a good show,” finally interjected Petersen to put a stop to the questioning, “but it isn’t getting us anywhere.”

Among those who appeared in support of the measure being on the ballot were Police Sergeant and police officers association President, Brian Shimmel, who informed the council of crime conditions within the city and the need for public safety spending; and House of Beef owner, Steve Medlen, who said he supported anything that would benefit public safety spending.

During council discussion, Councilman Farrell Jackson, the only vote in opposition, told the group he was more in favor of a public safety specific tax, rather than a general sales tax. He said a specific tax would allow the city to immediately add officers and firefighters, rather than wait until 2016 outlined in Whitemyer’s plan.

A specific tax, however, would require a two-thirds passage, rather than a simple majority by voters.

Councilman Mike Brennan and Mayor Paul both said that the measure wouldn’t pass if two-thirds of the vote was required.

“The sad reality is if we need to get it with two-thirds, we’re doomed,” Paul said.

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