05/09/08 — Sales tax, take 2: Want to get people to think about sales tax? Start over.

View Archive

Sales tax, take 2: Want to get people to think about sales tax? Start over.

Wayne County voters sent the message loud and clear to their county commissioners this week: No new taxes.

And it wasn’t just a whisper, either. A tax referendum that was defeated by more than 80 percent of those who turned out to vote on a primary Tuesday that saw a record number of people casting ballots, is not one voters are feeling ambigious about.

But what does that mean, really? What is going to happen now in the county? What about the projects that would be funded by the sales tax hike proceeds? What does this mean for a future property tax increase?

For right now, the commissioners aren’t saying anything definitively — perhaps because they might not know for sure what to do next. It is clear that a retry of the sales tax proposal is something that needs to be reconsidered and represented to the community.

And chief among the discussion should be a full-disclosure, all facts on the table, brass tacks look at what is to be done about what is clearly the most important possible use of the funds that would be raised — a new communications system for county emergency officials.

And while everyone understands why Wayne County’s residents said no to paying more for anything right now, the communications system purchase is one they should insist on now — and demand that their county commissioners think a little harder about how to pay for it. Perhaps using some of the reserves might be a goodwill gesture to let the community know that its leaders get that they are having trouble making ends meet right now.

The commissioners have a few months before the November vote.

And by that time, there will be other issues to consider as well — promised school facilities funding as well as resources committed to decreasing the school dropout rate.

That is plenty of time to talk more, to discuss options and to consider just what might be the best way to prove to this community that this is not just money heading into the commission coffers, but a well-thought-out project-based proposal that will be money well-spent.

And that won’t happen if the “information” released about the tax proposal or any other funding plan, is not disseminated to the people in a big way. The county needs a much better plan for getting the message to voters before they head back to the polls in November. And that could mean a whole lot more commissioners speaking out to answer questions and concerns before — not after — the vote count.

Truth is, voters are not going to open their wallets for anyone right now without a solid feeling that their money is going to a worthy cause. They want to see value and vision.

And it will be up to Commission Chairman Bud Gray and the county staff to make sure the voters have all the facts they need — and the confidence that their leaders have exhausted every other possible option.

That’s the best way to get them to open their wallets.

Published in Editorials on May 9, 2008 11:19 AM