What should be fate of regional sales tax?

Matthew Lane • Apr 26, 2007 at 12:06 PM

KINGSPORT - What to do with the regional sales tax has been a topic of discussion and debate among city leaders over the past couple of months.

As debt is paid off on the bonds for MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center beginning in fiscal year 2009, more than $2 million will be available to the city to do with as it wishes.

Candidates in the upcoming city election offer their opinions on what to do with the money.

On May 15 Model City voters will go to the polls to elect three people to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Their choices are two incumbents - Vice Mayor Larry Munsey and Alderman Ken Marsh - and four challengers - Ray Cain, Bill Hillman, Richard Samples and Jantry Shupe.

The Times-News recently asked the candidates a series of questions addressing issues facing the Model City, including annexation, education and the proposed higher education center in downtown Kingsport.

This story is part five of the series and will highlight the answers to the following question.

Q: Mayor Dennis Phillips wants to use a portion of the regional sales tax to pay for the higher education center. Alderman Pat Shull favors a portion going to debt relief. Others believe the citizens should decide what to do with the tax, which was created through a voter referendum.

By law, the BMA can reappropriate the money as it deems fit. What do you think the BMA should do with any unallocated money from the regional sales tax? Should the tax be repealed or placed on a non-binding advisory referendum to gauge the public's opinion on the matter?

Cain: We cannot repeal the regional sales tax at this time. We still have the debt at Cattails. This tax is going toward that debt. However, we will have the extra funds from MeadowView being paid off. Looking at Mayor Phillips and Alderman Shull's opinion, we are paying on some type of debt so we are splitting hairs. I think the public would have a better feeling about the money going toward the higher education center because that is something that could be seen.

About the tax after Cattails is paid off, most of the people that I have talked to believe the MeadowView project was sold to them with the understanding that the tax would come off when MeadowView and Cattails was completed. We cannot have the citizens think that the government said one thing and did another. We have to let the citizens decide to leave in place or repeal.

If I was going to vote now, I would have to vote yes to leave the tax in place, and I would hope that every city voter would vote yes also. It would help each taxpayer in this town by letting the non-residents help with the tax burden.

Hillman: Mayor Phillips has great passion and vision for Kingsport. I support his view on this issue. There is machinery already in place to handle debt relief. This tax is already in place, and from the amount of people I have polled, they are for leaving it alone.

Marsh: The regional sales tax was approved by a strong majority of citizens in a referendum to fund MeadowView/Cattails. Citizens did not vote for it to fund roads, parks, schools, pools or any other amenities. It was approved for MeadowView/Cattails. Much of the debt will be paid off in the coming year, but a significant sum continues forward. As a result there is not any money available to redirect for the next three to five years even if it could be. In addition, for the BMA to redirect regional sales tax without citizen consent would be absolutely unethical.

Munsey: For the next several years, essentially all the money collected via the regional sales tax will be needed to cover the expenses at MeadowView. I think this question is not a burning issue at this time. We can manage the higher education center without it, and the BMA members who will be elected on May 15 may well have served out their full four-year terms and then some before this is a matter than must be dealt with.

Samples: The regional sales tax was voted by the people for one purpose only, to build MeadowView. It is not a bottomless pit that the mayor can keep dipping into for other projects without the people's consent. I think a referendum is needed before the regional tax is used for any other purpose. I believe, as the mayor does, the people of Kingsport are smart enough to know that the higher education center is the single most important item if we are to attract new businesses to Kingsport. Let's not sell our citizens short. They know a good thing when they see it and is explained to them in an intelligent manner.

Shupe: This subject is a premature issue. If granted the privilege of serving the great city I would wish to learn more about this issue and how it would impact Kingsport for the greater good. I am not a candidate with all the answers, but I am a visionary, open-minded candidate that will approach issues diplomatically and heed to common sense.

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