Aberdeen Council moves forward on roads tax

The Aberdeen City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance Wednesday that would create a Transportation Benefit District with the goal of asking voters to boost sales tax rates to fix city roads.

The benefit district is the first step needed on the sales tax path. The council will take up the second reading of the issue, along with a public hearing to see what residents think, during its next meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at City Hall.

The benefit district would be created after passage of the third reading of the ordinance next month. Then, a separate resolution would need to be approved to send a sales tax hike to the voters.

Aberdeen City Council President Kathi Hoder said she wants to be as transparent with the public as possible so residents aren’t caught off guard by what the city is pursuing.

Talk about a potential sales tax boost has been ongoing for more than a year, but the ordinance had been tabled while the city was pursuing a potential countywide solution. Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson said those talks weren’t going as expected and green-lighted the council to start pursuing its own plans.

The first reading was approved on a 7-2 vote, with Council members Alice Phelps and James Cook voting against the option.

Phelps specifically cited concerns car dealer Rich Hartman has with a possible sales tax in the city.

“This will hurt his business,” Phelps said. “Until we figure out this situation, I need to say no.”

Voting for the measure were Council members Tim Alstrom, John Smith, John Erak, Jerry Mills, Jeff Cook, Frank Gordon and Hoder. Absent were Council members Margo Shortt, Doug Paling and Pete Schave.

Alstrom, who is chairman of the city’s Public Works Committee, said he’s honestly not sure how high of a sales tax the city could ask the voters to approve.

The countywide approach would have boosted the existing 8.4 percent sales tax to 8.6 percent. But, going back to the city’s original proposal, the tax would have gone up to 0.13 percent to 8.53 percent, just within the city limits. It could be something entirely different now, though, Alstrom said, anticipating an election to happen next February.

Aberdeen Public Works Director Larry Bledsoe says the city currently doesn’t have the money to do more than fix pot holes.

The city is using a spray patcher on the larger holes, but Bledsoe said it doesn’t fix the long-term problem. He says the city needs to generate an additional $525,000 per year to start repaving roads — money a sales tax hike could provide.