OCTA: More information neededTaxpayers' group offers thoughts on failed referendum
By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe
SIBLEY, Iowa — Government officials in Osceola County aren’t sure why the 1 percent local option sales tax failed at the polls recently, but members of the Osceola County Taxpayers Association believe they know why.
“We’re not against economic development or any ways of improving our cities and counties,” said Rochelle Buchman, secretary of OCTA. “We just want to know where they’re going to spend these monies. That’s all we’re asking of them.”
OCTA, a 20-year-old chartered organization with six to eight people on its board, encouraged people to vote against the tax because the municipalities and the county did not state exactly what the money would be used for.
Although the City of Sibley did say money from the sales tax would go into its general fund, the city did not specify in the ballot language what programs the money would go toward.
Representatives from several cities where the measure failed said they wished they had done a better job educating the public about how the funds could be used.
OCTA campaigned to defeat the tax measure in the weeks before Jan. 8, placing ads in several local newspapers and running an automated phone system that called many people throughout the area where the tax measure was on the ballot.
One of the major concerns OCTA had about the sales tax was its application to utility bills, which it said would hurt older people on fixed incomes.
OCTA also believes local government officials do not spend responsibly, said its president, Kevin Wolfswinkel. Had the money been designated for a specific purpose, Wolfswinkel said, people could have decided whether to authorize the tax based on whether they believed that specific purpose was worth funding to a greater extent.
“Every one of the (governmental) entities is having a problem funding law enforcement,” Buchman said. “The city is all maxed out (on property taxes). The county is one step from being there.”
Buchman believes the tax would have passed if the city had designated the funds for public safety.
“We feel that they are already not holding themselves accountable,” Wolfswinkel said, adding there should have been more information available to the public if the cities and county had wanted the tax to pass.
Now that Sibley passed the tax, the other cities and the county may return to voters again, asking them to pass the same tax so they can get a piece of Sibley’s revenue. Wolfswinkel would still be against the tax in that case, unless the money was designated for a specific project.
“We really have something to say when it comes to voting,” Buchman said. “That’s the message we give to our elected officials: we’re in control, not you. They’re employed by us.”