Ward 6 Jackson City Councilman Tony Yarber made a good point at the council work session Monday night. He pointed out that, with just one month and 25 days until the city puts to the people a referendum on a 1-percent sales tax, we still don't know what the benefits or repercussions of a "yes" vote will be.
Yarber suggested delaying the vote, now scheduled for Jan. 14, 2014, to give council and the mayor's office more time to gather information and sway voters to support the measure.
Ward 2 Councilman Melvin Priester Jr. agreed, adding that he felt council members should have a united message as they go out into their respective wards to sell the tax increase. "Just to leverage your point," he said. "I just heard you say it will bring $20 million in additional revenue, and I've been saying $7 million to $8 million."
This kind of discrepancy is scary, considering the drawbacks the 1-percent sales tax has attached to it. To whit, it is a regressive tax that hits everyone equally, including the poorest among us, and the committee that will oversee the disbursement of these funds could potentially include members that do not have Jackson's residents best interest at heart.
There's also a lot of good a 1-percent sales tax could do. Estimates on how much money the city would get—the overwhelming majority of which would go to vital infrastructure—ranges from $8 million to $20 million. The official number from the mayor's office is $15 million. If that is true, and this is a 10-year tax, that could mean $150 million in future revenue the city could borrow against.
That sure would help the city get a jumpstart on fixing its wastewater management system to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's consent decree, still the biggest cloud hanging over our city.
With the increase in capability at the public works department, we could double the spending, and thus actual work, we do on streets for the next 10 years. We can't imagine many Jacksonians who wouldn't get behind that.
But we have major reservations about the municipal government raising our taxes. Our property tax rates are already higher than those of our bedroom communities, and this year's $500 million budget is already massive for a city the size of Jackson.
We're with Yarber: The city's leadership needs to step up and tackle these questions head on. If we are going to cede another $15 million to the city, we need to know exactly what we are going to get, and we need to be assured of who is going to be spending it on our behalf—and what that commission will look like.
We only have one shot at this, and we don't need to rush it.