By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – Saltillo voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a property tax increase to help pay for road improvements.
A total of 370 votes, or 66 percent, were cast against the 8-mill tax levy, with 192 votes, or 34 percent in favor. The turnout represented about 22 percent of Saltillo’s 2,489 registered voters.
The five-year levy would have helped three major road widening projects with a total cost of nearly $2.6 million.
“This is the democratic process, and the people have made their choice,” said Mayor Bill Williams. “In this climate people aren’t interested in more taxes. While these things need to be done in a town like Saltillo that’s growing and the sooner you can get ahead of them the better and less expensive, obviously, the people have chosen not to at this particular time.”
Saltillo resident Pat Carr, who took out ads against the proposal, is glad the referendum failed.
“Anywhere you go you need improvements, but it shouldn’t be done on the backs of the people with ad valorem taxes,” he said. “The people that come through here and go to McDonald’s and will use all these facilities, 90 percent aren’t from around here and it needs to be so they will help us on something they are going to enjoy, like a road.”
James Gusmus, who said his ad valorem tax would increase $125, agreed the burden should be spread through a sales tax. “I don’t need a tax increase and (a sales tax) would affect everyone who uses Saltillo roads, not just homeowners.”
Williams and Alderman Mitchell Brazeal were among many city officials and other supporters of the program who expressed their disappointment in what they called “misinformation.” They said they heard it spread through the community about the program.
Saltillo resident Steve Belew parked his truck down the road from the polling place and passed out flyers all day Tuesday.
“The word I’m getting from folks going in and out is that we still have a lot of confusion with our senior citizens, thanks to some folks here in Saltillo who put out some misinformation that our senior citizens’ taxes are going to be increased,” Belew said.
Shane Hooper, chairman of the citizens’ committee that developed a list of road priorities, said he heard similar stories and the senior citizens are part of the reason a sales tax wasn’t voted on instead.
“We didn’t do it in a sales tax because the people you do affect are the very people who are most vulnerable because they do have to buy groceries,” he said. “A lot of people say we shouldn’t depend on the federal government, but I heard so much talk about getting a grant or other funding. The citizens of Saltillo had an opportunity to stand up and do what we need for our community and do it ourselves and not depend on anybody else.”
The Saltillo Transportation Enhancement Program, or STEP, was modeled after Tupelo’s Major Thoroughfare Program. Last year, 83 percent of the voters in Tupelo approved a fifth five-year phase of the program that carries a 10-mill tax.