A proposal to reinstate a city utility tax--the bane of local politicians for much of the last decade--could be presented to voters one more time this November.
Shortly after voting last week to increase their benefits, City Council members discussed adopting a 3% utility tax to ease the city's financial problems.
The council directed City Clerk Linda Gair to draft a resolution proposing that the question of whether the city should adopt a five-year, 3% utility tax be placed on the November ballot, Gair said.
If the council adopts the resolution at its July 19 meeting, voters will have a chance to decide whether the council should impose a new tax on electricity, gas and telephone service, she said.
A similar tax, adopted in 1983 and phased out by 1988, triggered enough discontent to prompt a 1987 attempt to recall three councilmen. Councilman Robert McNeill died before the recall vote. Four months after voters ousted Leo King and then-Mayor Jack White, the two were returned to the council, but with King as mayor and White as a councilman.
As with the current proposal, the earlier tax was meant to offset declining city revenues, said interim City Manager Michael Yelton. In 1983, the problem was the loss of federal-sharing money, Yelton said. In recent years, new businesses have not produced the sales tax revenue the city had anticipated, creating a budget shortfall, he said.
In May, growing budget problems contributed to the council's decision to negotiate the resignation of former City Manager Ralph Webb, Mayor Leo King said. Last month, a potential deficit of $260,000 in the 1989-90 budget was avoided only after the council decided to eliminate the entire six-member code enforcement division, transfer money from a city retirement fund and rely on anticipated savings from lower liability insurance premiums.
Before discussing the proposed utility tax last week, council members voted 4 to 0 to raise their benefits to $441 a month, the amount received by department heads and the city manager. Without the change, council members would have received $302 a month in benefits, the amount received by most city employees.
The benefits provide medical and dental coverage and retirement, Councilwoman Bette Lowes said.
Rejected Doubled Stipend
Council members prefaced their vote on the benefit increase by rejecting a proposal to double their monthly stipend, to $500.
"Sometimes it costs us for the privilege of serving on the council," Lowes said, adding that she has put many miles on her car while performing council duties. "Though we do deserve compensation, this is probably not the time."
But she said the increase in benefits is a needed compromise.
"This is just one way to get a little compensation without raising our pay too. We could have done both."