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County Council, August 9

Sales tax referendum to go ahead
But with no question about the completion of I-526
Warwick Jones

Council agreed last night to go ahead with the half-cent sales tax referendum. It was a tense meeting but not as fractious as the first attempt at the second reading some weeks ago. And we surmise that no Council member was totally happy with the outcome.

There were some major changes in the ballot. First, the amount set aside for greenbelts was raised to $210 million from $125 million. Council member Schweers was the champion of this cause stating that the percentage of the total $2.1 billion tax proceeds marked for greenbelts was about 6%. It should be 10% in line with the first half cent transportation sales tax. He and others noted the need for greenspace.

Council member Schweers prevailed but it was not an easy victory with Council members Pryor and Rawl opposing and Darby and Johnson abstaining. We believe those who did not support the amendment had issues with conservation easements on rural properties more than anything else.

The second change was the combination of the amounts to be directed to Transportation and Roads. In earlier drafts, the amount for Roads was $1.365 billion and for Transportation $609 million. In the final document the combined amount will be $1.89 billion.

We understood that there other changes though we have not seen a copy of the final ballot document. Unlike the draft documents, it seems the names of the road projects will not be included. But in a way that we donít know, the projects names will be linked to the referendum.

Council passed the referendum ordinance with a 6 to 3 vote. Those opposed were Council member Darby who felt the state should be financing the road projects; Council member Rawl, who felt that the process had been rushed and ill conceived; and Council member Johnson who probably felt that I-526 should be included in the project list.

And then there were the motions that failed to pass. Council member Pryor, suspicious of devious play by future Councils wanted to make additions (and subtractions?) to the project subject to a super majority vote. County Attorney Dawson effectively told Council not to waste its time. Council could not lock in decisions for future Councils. A decision to impose a super majority could be simply be changed. But Council went ahead with a vote anyhow - and it failed. Only Council members Pryor, Schweers and Johnson were in favor.

And then there was the bigger issue. Did citizens want the Mark Clark extension completed?

We presume that Council members Rawl, Pryor and Summey were keen to put such a question to the public. There has been a lot of discussion and dispute about the project and it made sense to get the public's view. Council member Condon was opposed to the question, not so much for her opposition to the extension but the wording. It was too vague. For example, maybe citizens want the extension but not at any price. What form should it be?

It was close but Council voted 5 to 4 against including the question. Those that opposed the question were Council members Darby, Condon, Pryor, Sass and Schweers.

We should note that about 20 or so citizens turned up last night to speak on the referendum. Notable were Mayor Tecklenberg, and Nancy Olson of the Coastal Conservation League (C CL). Mayor Tecklenberg was in favor of the referendum and completion of I-526, He said that the problem lay with the State Infrastructure Bank who was failing to live up to the contract it had with the County. Ms. Olson predictably spoke in favor of greenbelts and mass transit. She spoke for considerable length, though probably didnít mean to. As a representative of CCL, she was taken to task by Council member Rawl as to the need for greenspace, and interestingly, for the mass of e mails he received that had no names or addresses, but came from the same server - that of CCL. Did these people send the e mails or were they simply drawn from the CCLís data base? Ms. Olson said they were sent by the individuals who were responding to a request by CCL..

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