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Voters to decide on food tax use

Voters can decide in November if the city can use Food and Beverage Tax money to repair the city’s ailing roads, the Ashland City Council decided Tuesday.

The tax was passed by voters in 1993 and renewed in 2009 to build and improve the city’s wastewater treatment plant. 

But since that time the debt payments on the plant have decreased and the Food and Beverage Tax has taken in more money than expected to the tune of $600,000 dollars this year. City Administrator Dave Kanner suggested diverting the excess to begin road repairs which are close to 15 years overdue.

“I know this will be met negatively by those who want to fight the battles of 1993 or those who are opposed to change,” Kanner said, “But what will people think 16 years from now if we don’t take this opportunity? I would much prefer to move forward and have our successors say they are glad we had the foresight to take care of our streets.” 

That meeting took place in April. Since that time the council has considered making it a ballot measure so citizens can decide if that’s the best use of the money. 

In addition to street repair, the money would also go to City Parks for infrastructure improvements and maintenance. The tax currently supports parks now, but the proposal would call for increasing that amount to 25 percent from 20 percent. 

Mayor John Stromberg urged councilors to consider all expenditures in context, rather than locking in on just streets. “There is a context in which we’re making this decision," he said. "We have other needs that we need to consider. Some of these other things require money. We have the whole spectrum, how does this all fit together? How much can citizens pay? You need to analyze the whole context.” 

Councilor Pam Marsh urged the council to vote in favor of the Food and Beverage Tax diversion to roads for voters to consider. “The business of doing government is a balance of due diligence and doing something," she said. "Streets are fundamental, we have plenty of testimony from the public that streets are important to people. We should consider ourselves lucky that we have forebears in these seats to put the food tax in play. I think we move forward and allow voters to decide.” 

Councilor Greg Lemhouse addressed the mayor’s comments with strong push back. “I disagree with your presumption we have not evaluated. I’ve sat on this council for eight years and I’m fully aware of the things we need to fund. I’m seeing this as a way to fund one. We can’t do it all with this tax. I appreciate your comments and overall message, but I feel this is the best use of our taxes.” 

All councilors made arguments in favor of allowing voters to consider the proposal. Carol Voisin said in response to a statement made earlier by Councilor Lemhouse that roads aren’t sexy, but necessary, that “You know repairing streets is sexy. It’s important we take care of our streets and our potholes.” 

In the end the council voted unanimously to pass the tax on to voters on Nov. 8.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at akinsj@sou.edu and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.