To bundle or not to bundle. That’s what elected officials debated Tuesday when hashing out what to put on the November 2019 specific purpose excise tax ballot.
In past SPET elections, voters have been presented with a list of projects to cast a “yea” or “nay” vote on each individually. But this year some officials want to “bundle” a $77 million slate of 10 projects into a single, all-or-nothing ballot question.
Mayor Pete Muldoon, who favors bundling, said town and county officials and staff have the “best, holistic” view of the projects and how they fit into big-picture capital needs. He’s confident the community will “ratify” officials’ vetting of all the projects, he said.
“The purpose of a SPET election is for us to fund the needs of our community, not to provide entertainment to the voters,” Muldoon said. “The voters have made a decision to elect us to make these decisions. I think we’re the most qualified to do this.”
The other town councilors — Jim Stanford, Arne Jorgensen and Hailey Morton Levinson — also favored a “bundled” approach. Councilor Jonathan Schechter was absent.
“We cannot just pick the sexy items,” Stanford said. “We have, to use the food analogy, to eat our vegetables, too.”
“I think the voters are smart,” she said, “I think they’ll understand why we want to bundle it all. All these items together move our community forward. They’re needs not wants.”
On the other hand, several county commissioners were leery of bundling. Commissioner Mark Newcomb said he respects the ability of individuals in the community to identify what they feel is at the “core of government function and in their mind what is less core.”
“I think we really have to trust the community, and I think the community would be extremely disappointed if they didn’t sense that trust from us as elected officials,” Newcomb said. “It’s about the sacredness of the ballot box and the trust in the voter and trust in our democratic process.”
Commissioner Mark Barron said voters are smart and have historically approved taxes for projects that may not be “sexy,” like for wastewater or the jail. He said he has faith citizens can support all the ballot initiatives.
“I’m not sure if you understand the chance of losing all these items by bundling them all in one ballot,” Barron said. “That’s my concern.”
Going the “a la carte” route, for Commissioner Greg Epstein, would demand changing the items on the ballot. Because the community desperately needs certain items that may not enjoy wide popularity — like Gregory Lane sidewalks and the vehicle maintenance facility — he’d consider striking the “shiny objects” like the Recreation Center and wildlife crossings off an a la carte ballot, he said.
“I’m highly concerned about core needs,” Epstein said.
Commissioner Natalia Macker said her “gut reaction” was to favor the a la carte option, while Commissioner Luther Propst said he’s still analyzing the issue.
”To me, the power of bundling is the statement we would make to the community that this is an integrated package,” Propst said.
Ultimately, with the town firmly planted in the “bundling” camp and commissioners wary, the bundling question was left to a future meeting. Staff will work to draft ballot language for a July 1 joint meeting.