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As has been previously reported, the ballot the Columbus voters will consider on May 10 will include two questions related to the continuation of the current 1 percent and half-percent local option sales taxes.
The two questions are intertwined and an explanation is appropriate.
The 1 percent sales tax will continue, if approved, to fund capital, drainage and street improvements and provide funding for equipment. It will also provide necessary financial coverage for future bond issues that will be presented to Columbus voters for consideration and approval for the special projects to be funded from the half-percent sales tax. Bond purchasers will require guarantees of the city’s ability to retire bonds issued for the related project(s). That bond coverage requirement is also factored into the proposed 10-year sunset of the 1 percent sales tax.
Approval of the 1 percent sales tax continuation is a prerequisite to seeking voter approval of the bonds necessary to finance the public portion of the library/cultural arts project. There is an effort in the community to raise half of the project costs through private donations and contributions, grants and other sources.
If the continuation of the 1 percent sales tax does not pass, collection of the tax will cease on April 1, 2017. If the sales tax is not approved by Columbus voters, then in accordance with state statute, the city will not be able to present another ballot question for the collection of the sales tax to the voters for 23 months. Significant decisions would have to be made regarding the level of services to be provided during this period when the sales tax revenue is discontinued.
As previously noted, the half-percent sales tax has been targeted for two special projects: a new library/cultural arts facility and public safety facility or facilities. These projects will be subject to further citizen oversight by the Columbus voters. If the continuation of the half-percent sales tax does not pass, collections on that tax will cease on Jan. 1, 2017, when current bonds issued for the expansion of Pawnee Plunge have been retired. All work on those projects will cease due to a lack of a funding source. If the tax is not approved by the voters then, under state statute, the city will not be able to present the collection of a half-percent sales tax to the voters for 23 months.
Approval of the 1 percent and half-percent sales tax questions on May 10 will allow design work to continue on both projects to provide the facilities deemed appropriate for our community both in concept, size and cost. Work is progressing on the library/cultural arts facility with preliminary design and is nearing a point where it is time to engage a contractor to work with the design team. The contractor and design team will review the preliminary concepts and develop an appropriate project cost for inclusion of a future bond issue to be presented to the voters for consideration. A similar approach is being taken to determine what is the nature and scope of the public safety facilities necessary to serve the community. Once the public safety assessment and preliminary project design work have been completed, the cost of the proposed project will, similarly, be presented for voter consideration.
The ballot questions to be posed on May 10 ask for continuation of current sales tax amounts that have been in place in Columbus for years, the 1 percent sales tax since 1995 and half-percent sales tax since 2001. Collection of those past sales taxes have provided funding for numerous community improvement projects.