Peculiar discusses fuel tax, Park Board controversy

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The Peculiar Board of Aldermen met on Monday evening for a regular meeting and public hearing.

The majority of the agenda items were approved unanimously by the aldermen. First they passed the reappointment of Roger Dougherty to the Planning Commission, to serve another four-year term. They also approved the adoption of two policies for the City: a debt management policy and an investment policy. The debt management policy basically makes official the measures that are already routinely followed, to ensure that policies are being implemented and completed correctly. The investment policy ensures that the City has a sound policy to refer to, with the best practices possible.

The board also unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance adopting an official zoning map which, according to the agenda, “incorporates all changes in zoning, changes in zoning districts, and changes to the official city limits of Peculiar from annexations since May 2009.”

One item returned for board discussion and for a first-reading vote, and was met with further discussion: the fuel tax. This bill, if approved in two readings by the Board of Alderman, will be brought to election on April 8. It would impose a local fuel tax which would be limited to the following uses: “the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, policing, signing, lighting, and cleaning of roads and/or streets; and for the payment of principal and interest on bonded indebtedness incurred for road and street purposes.”

During discussion, the board and City staff pointed out that currently there are no street bonds.

This question has been brought to the ballot twice before, and was voted down both times because it did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority vote for approval, although the votes in favor of the measure did rise from the first to the second time.

This bill, if approved by voters, would impose a one-cent tax per gallon of gas. Those tax dollars would be guaranteed to remain local, unlike other gas taxes, which return to the State and are dispersed according to the latest census. The tax hike, according to City Administrator Brad Ratliff, would be a key mechanism in funding road improvements, especially as there is currently no good mechanism in place.

tend the Board of Aldermen meetings to learn about the current City issues and to express opinions when given the opportunity.

Alderman Donald Turner spoke up about his hesitation with imposing another tax. “That’s where I’m having my issue at: it’s another tax,” he said.

However, the majority of the board spoke in favor of the bill.

“We need it desperately for roads,” said Alderman Bob Fines.

Veronika Ray agreed: “I want the roads fixed.”

Several aldermen mentioned local resistance to the tax and the importance of educating the public on how the money would be spent and how it would impact them.

Mayor Ernie Jungmeyer explained that a person with a 20-miles per gallon vehicle who drives 20,000 miles a year will only see a $10-per-year increase in expenses.

Ratliff emphasized that this tax money will be used explicitly and exclusively for roads and streets. “The reality is, it’s for roads and the purpose of upkeeping those roads.” He later said that the City got out information on the bill twice before it was voted on last time, but some people still did not know or chose to ignore the truth: that the tax is solely for road-related purposes.

Alderman Holly Stark stated, “This is needed,” adding that she thinks it is important and it makes sense. However, she went on to say that she is “not a fan” of putting something repeatedly before the voters until they finally pass it.

Ultimately Stark and Turner voted against the measure, but it carried and will be brought forth for a second reading on January 6.

The final item of new business was an ordinance to amend a chapter of the City Municipal Code in order to update “eligibility parameters for the receipt of liquor licenses and employee permits.” Previously the Municipal Code barred anyone with a felony conviction from receiving such a license or permit. The ordinance changes the Code to align with a 2003 State decision, so that only felons whose convictions are related to the “manufacture or sale of intoxicating liquors” are prohibited from receiving a license or permit. The Board of Aldermen approved the first reading unanimously. The second reading will come before the board on January 6.

Under the agenda item “Aldermen Concerns,” Alderman Dunsworth brought up the issue of the Park Board. Dunsworth serves as the board liaison to the Park Board and has previously expressed his frustration with the way the Park Board has been split over issues with little change or resolution. Monday night he suggested that perhaps the Park Board should be suspended for a year or two, and Alderman Bob Fines agreed.

Extensive conversation and debate over the usefulness of the Park Board ensued, but ultimately Mayor Jungmeyer requested that City Staff put together an ordinance to rescind the Park Board. The ordinance will come before the Board of Aldermen on January 6, and the Park Board, the public, and Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Musteen will have the opportunity to attend and to speak before the Board.

As always, the public is welcome to attend the Board of Aldermen meetings to learn about the current City issues and to express opinions when given the opportunity.

 

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