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Lessons learned from public safety tax hearing


October 02, 2019
The Crawford County Council members emerged, although mentally bloody and bruised, from a public hearing regarding a proposed new public safety tax held last Tuesday.

They messed this one up in a big way, and the more than 100 people present let them know it.

Here are four lessons learned:

1. People don't like taxes, and they absolutely hate new ones.

While most of those who spoke are in favor of keeping paramedic service, they don't believe a new tax is the way to do it. The $511,500 in EDIT (Economic Development Income Tax) funds the county committed to the newly-formed Crawford County Economic Development Partnership Corp. did not set well with taxpayers. There also is much resentment of the designation of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district and including businesses in the Carefree area in it. A TIF district is a way for municipalities to pay for infrastructure intended to promote economic development. There's a bond issue to pay for that infrastructure, and tax revenue generated by the added assessed value is diverted exclusively to repay the bond. That means it no longer goes to the county general fund, which means, of course, that's money that can't be used for paramedic service.

2. Any hint of sneakiness or behind-the-scenes manipulation destroys trust.

Public acceptance of this new tax was dead on arrival, largely due to timing. Scheduling a hearing for 5 p.m. was an absolute disaster. And the council members should have known better.

Many who spoke at the hearing used words such as "underhanded," "sneaky," "unfair" and "disrespectful" to characterize the timing of the hearing. While the intent might not have been to suppress public comment, that was the appearance.

I wish public officials could realize when there's a controversial issue, they simply must go above and beyond to ensure nobody feels left out. It avoids so much drama and eliminates any suspicion of impropriety.

3. People want — and they absolutely deserve — to be heard.

Half an hour for a controversial issue is obviously not adequate. The council knew — because it tried to adopt this tax last year — what the reaction was likely to be. Council members had to have known they would have a crowd. Limiting comments is fine, but, again, appearances are everything and this made it appear the council members really weren't interested in what their constituents had to say.

Give credit where credit is due. At the suggestion of Councilman Jerry Brewer, the council again opened the floor for comment regarding the tax during its regular meeting. That was a good decision.

4. Redemption is possible.

The conversation became heated a few times, and both a couple council members and a couple audience members let their emotions get control of their tongues. Kudos to the council members who apologized when the public took offense to their reactions.

At the end of the night, the council did what it should have done months ago: it appointed an advisory committee to go through the budget and to look for ways to fund paramedic service without enacting a new tax. It's a good idea, but it's very late in the game; the budget must be adopted in October.

The committee will meet Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in the council meeting room for anyone interested in attending. Both elected officials and members of the public will serve.

As councilman Lucas Stroud warned everyone, this won't be easy and it will require all involved to keep an open mind.

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Schuler Bauer
Barbara Shaw
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