Chelsea residents voice opposition, support for proposed one-cent sales tax increase

Published 10:26 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2013

By KATIE MCDOWELL/Lifestyles Editor

CHELSEA – The Chelsea City Council heard from proponents and opponents of a proposed one-percent sales tax increase during an April 16 public hearing at Chelsea City Hall.

More than two dozen people attended the meeting, including numerous players and supporters of Chelsea High’s tennis team.

The proposed sales tax increase, which would raise Chelsea’s sales tax to 9 percent, will generate about $100,000 per month. The revenue will be used to fund a variety of capital projects and personnel expenses, including the annexation of 423 acres of property, the widening and paving of King’s Home Road, the modification of the Shelby County 47 and Shelby County 39 intersection and the construction of a community/senior adult center and recreational facilities, including tennis courts and a football field.

Two people expressed direct opposition to the tax increase.

Mary Lewis said she thought the proposed projects were “good things,” but she felt they were “luxuries, not necessities.” She also said she opposed the city borrowing money to pay for the capital projects.

“Personally, I am a Christian,” she said. “I put a lot of value in the Scriptures. I think the Scriptures teach us it is not wise to borrow money.”

When responding to the objections, Mayor Earl Niven said that for many of the families in the city, the recreation facilities were a necessity. He said the average age of a Chelsea resident is 34.5 years, which he said indicated the large number of children in the city.

“They consider that a need for the area, not just a want,” he said. “It is our responsibility to provide (recreational facilities) for our children.”

Council member Juanita Champion also said local families packed City Hall to voice support for the construction of city recreational facilities during a July 2012 meeting to assess public sentiment about capital projects.

During the April 16 meeting, Jonna Walton, who is affiliated with Chelsea High’s tennis team, spoke in favor of the sales tax increase and the proposed capital projects. She said the team practices at Brook Highland Racquet Club and held tryouts in Columbiana because Chelsea lacks proper tennis courts.

In an April 2 public hearing to discuss the proposed sales tax increase, Niven said the city has $1.175 million reserved for capital projects in the general fund. The city also plans to borrow about $6 million to complete the projects.

The city would be able to use the $6 million of borrowed money to complete about $10 million worth of projects, Niven said on April 16. He also said if the city were to follow a “pay as you go” plan, it would take at least eight years to complete the projects, instead of two-three.

Resident Charles Lewis questioned whether the sales tax increase would be permanent, of if the council could impose an expiration date on it.

Niven said it was a possibility, but at the rate the city is growing – it’s the second fastest growing city in the state – it would likely have new capital projects to fund by the time the sales tax increase expired.

“I think when that time comes, there are going to be more needs we can identify,” he said.

Niven said the City Council will vote on the one-cent sales tax increase at its next meeting, which will be held at City Hall on Tuesday, May 7 at 6 p.m.