City banking on sales tax renewal
By ANDREW MCGINN
There are 375 sewer manholes in the city of Jefferson, 56 miles of curbs, 25 miles of sidewalk, 6 miles of alleys and even 3 miles of dirt roads.
City administrator Mike Palmer was unaware the city owned a bridge, too, over the Raccoon River — “until it failed.”
And then there are the concrete streets, with concrete that’s 50 years and older on more than 95 percent of them.
To maintain and improve that infrastructure, the city wants just one penny of every dollar spent inside the city limits.
“It’s a penny that people can clearly see,” Palmer said recently.
Voters on Nov. 4 will be faced with continuing Jefferson’s 10-year Local Option Sales Tax, or LOST, a 1-percent tax on sales and services that’s on top of the state sales tax of 6 percent.
“For every dollar you spend,” Palmer said, “one penny comes directly back to Jefferson.”
City voters in 2006 approved the 10-year special tax — 100 percent of which goes to maintain and improve the city’s infrastructure.
All those pennies add up, generating about $360,000 a year for the city to do repair work.
To date, the LOST has generated $2.6 million for Jefferson, Palmer said.
The renewal would start on Jan. 1, 2017, and be in effect until June 30, 2027.
Naturally, Palmer is concerned that voters will see the word “tax” on the ballot and instinctively vote against the measure.
But, he argues, a special sales tax is an equitable way to pay for needed repairs.
“This way, everyone shares in it because everyone uses it,” he said. “It’s about as close to a flat tax as you’re ever going to get.”
Without the LOST, property owners would have to carry the burden of fixing chipped curbs and smoothing out bumpy streets.
Mulberry Street, for one, is in dire need of being repaired.
“This goes to benefit the whole community,” Mayor Craig Berry said, “but it’s applied to everyone.”
After all, homeowners and renters alike contribute to the sewer gas that eats away at old masonry, causing a manhole to collapse in 2008 at State and Pinet streets.
Since then, the city has spent $173,000 of LOST money rehabbing old manholes, Palmer said, some of which extend 27 feet below ground.
The city also used $64,000 of LOST money to repair Jackson Bridge, on Grimmell Road near Daubendiek Park, after high water led to settling.
One of the biggest projects was the 2011 repair of Chestnut Street, from Wilcox Way to Harrison Street, to the tune of $300,000.
Crews smoothed out what Palmer refers to as “the parade route” and fixed soft spots.
“It’s a nice ride,” he said. “This is something people can see every day and experience.”