Marry Ellis

Miami News-Record

A special election to decide whether a tax increase of one percent to be used for roadwork will be held in Miami on May 12.

"The one percent sales tax will allow the city to touch approximately 50 percent of the city’s roads," said Mayor Brent Brassfield at a special city council meeting dealing with the streets held earlier this year. "If we don’t touch 50 percent of the roads, we’ll never catch up with the roads needing repairs."

Research has shown that the City of Miami, like many cities throughout the state, dedicate little revenue to road work and maintenance.

It also shows that, if repair work is not done within three to five years, many Miami streets will be impassable.

Repairs need to be done to a significant number of city streets immediately before they can get worse, according to city engineer Jack Dalrymple.

"These streets didn’t get this bad overnight," said City Councilman Rudy Schultz.

The mayor acknowledged that it’s never a good time to raise taxes and that people might think the poor economy makes it even worse.

"But, the timing might actually be good," he said. "The price of asphalt is dropping continuously and we need to purchase it before it skyrockets."

The city also anticipated selling the municipal bonds at 4.66 percent, but another local community recently sold bonds at just over one percent interest another advantage.

The Street Advisory Committee, composed of local residents and businessmen, was created a year ago by the City Council to research the issue of repairing city streets and recommended the one percent sales tax as the best way to accomplish it.

City Councilman Terry Atkinson said at the special meeting that a survey taken of the citizens of Miami showed that they were overwhelmingly in favor of the road repairs.

"The improved roads will increase the property values of the residences in Miami," Brassfield said. "It will also increase the towns image.

If the vote goes through, the city will release bids and the work is scheduled to begin in the fall.

"The City of Miami is a can-do community," Brassfield said. "We have the ability to build roads. But, we don’t have the manpower to do all the work the proposal calls for."

He calls the sales tax "the fairest form" of assessing a tax.

"A lot of people don’t realize that the City Council has the legal ability to make an assessment on their utility bill to cover the cost of public works projects," Brassfield said. "We decided not to do that, but to take the issue to the people."

The City of Miami has released a question and answer fact sheet about the election.

What’s the problem with our streets?

Over the last several years, streets and roads in the City of Miami have deteriorated and become a safety issue for local citizens and commercial vehicles. Many of the streets are beyond repair and need to be completely re-constructed and repaved at significant costs, while other streets can just be repaired at lower costs.

How did the streets get in this condition?

The City spends money every year on fixing the streets and roads to the extent funds are available.

However, due to limited revenues devoted to such improvements, many streets have not been repaired and have continued to get worse.

Will we ever “catch up” with replacing and repairing our streets?

Without additional revenue sources, the City will never be able to provide the level of repairs and required preventive maintenance demanded by local citizens to fix the streets and keep them in safe condition.

What has the City done about this problem?

Last year, the City Council established a Street Advisory Committee of local residents and business leaders to evaluate the needs and determine a viable program on how the streets and roads could be upgraded or repaired and the best way to fund such a program. This committee met frequently over the last few months with City staff, engineers, financial experts and others to come up with a recommendation for the City Council.

What did the Committee recommend?

After a thorough discussion and assessment of the situation, the Committee recommended the City Council seek additional revenues dedicated to street-related improvements and earmark additional funds solely to fix and repair City streets and roads. The key to the recommendation was that any new revenues be set aside and used only for such purposes and not for other purposes.

What is the new funding source the Committee recommended?

After assessing possible revenue sources, the Street Advisory Committee recommended any new revenues come from a sales tax increase that would have to be approved by voters. The Committee suggested the increase in sales tax be no more than one percent and that the new sales tax has a termination date rather than be a permanent sales tax.

What is the City Council proposing to do about the streets?

After discussing the Street Advisory Committee’s report and recognizing the tremendous street and road needs within Miami, City officials have set a special election date to ask voters to approve an additional one percent (1%) sales tax dedicated to streets and roads with a term of fifteen (15) years. An additional sales

tax was selected to make sure folks living outside Miami that shop and trade in the City would help pay for some of the street repairs.

When is the Election?

The election will be held on Tuesday, May 12. The 15-year sales tax would become effective on Oct. 1,  and automatically go off on September 30, 2024.

Could funds from the new sales tax be used for other purposes?

Absolutely not. State law prohibits any City Council now or in the future from using sales tax approved by voters for any purpose other than that actually voted by local citizens. Revenues from the new sales tax would be held in a separate account or fund and not commingled with other City funds.

How much will the additional 1 cent sales tax cost my family?

The impact of the additional sales tax will depend on how much you or your family spends each month on goods and services that are subject to sales tax. For a typical family of four in Miami, it is estimated the additional sales tax paid would be around 30¢ per day. The total state, county and city sales tax would increase from 8.85% to 9.85%.

When would the street repair projects get started?

City officials have plans already drawn up to start some repairs and construction immediately. To get projects underway by fall of 2009, the City would most likely issue bonds to obtain funds upfront and use the sales tax revenues to repay the bonds over a period of time. One-cent sales tax generates approximately $20-21 million. The 1¢ sales tax funded projects are scheduled for completion by 2012.

If the sales tax is not approved, will the streets get fixed?

Given the City’s currently available funds for streets and other essential services, such as police and fire protection and maintaining its utility systems, the possibility of budgeting additional revenues for street and road improvements is unlikely, if not impossible. Consequently, without additional sales tax revenues, the City’s streets and roads will only get worse and continue to pose a significant health and safety hazard to Miami residents.

Where do I vote?

You will vote at your normal voting precinct. Only registered voters in the City of Miami will be eligible to vote in the election.

How can I get more information?

To obtain more information, please call Miami City Manager’s Office at 542-6685.

By Mary Ellis 542-5533