The Jones City Hall was packed on Tuesday evening as over 40 residents, business owners, and community stakeholders gathered at the public forum to discuss the upcoming sales election. The point was driven home that our community NEEDS significant funding to make water and wastewater improvements. The biggest debate was how to accomplish this.
After Chris Wolff, from Municipal Finance, completed his presentation regarding various funding options to pay for these improvements, Brett Ramsey, owner of Blue & Gold Sausage Company, asked the question that was on all of our minds. Could we use a blended approach to cover the debt service, with say a 1/2 cent sales tax increase coupled with a minimal rate increase for the utility customers? The answer was a resounding, “YES.”
However, the Mayor and Vice Mayor tipped their hand stating that even if we can secure alternative funding to cover a portion of the water and wastewater projects, they are still moving forward with a vote for a 1% sales tax increase. Their logic behind this became clear, as both listed off other capital improvement projects they want to complete with the extra 1 cent sales tax. In essence, they are asking residents to give them a proverbial blank check. Vice Mayor Missy Wilkinson stated that the residents of Jones put their trust in her when they voted in the April elections, and they need to trust her again to spend this money in the best way for the City. As other projects and needs were listed by the board members, a simple cry was issued from Gayle Hoag, pleading that the Trustees keep this issue about the water. “I can’t shower and run my dishwasher at the same time,” Hoag complains.
This request comes on the heals of a January agenda item (Page 10), where the previous Board of Trustees (which Wilkinson and Poland were both members) voted unanimously to send an internal investigation to the State Auditors Office. Vice Mayor Wilkinson drove home the point that the City is in this financial pickle because of poor management and inaction from the leadership of the past. Wilkinson also stated that regardless of the outcome of the sales tax election in July, the Board is planning to raise utility rates in the future. Utility rate increases will not require a vote of the people, but a simple majority vote of the Board of Trustees. When asked what the alternate plan was, should the 1% sales tax increase fail in July, the answer was, “There is no other plan.”
Here is the link for the full meeting audio.