PITTSBURG — What began as a discussion of commissioners having respect for each other at Tuesday’s Pittsburg City Commission meeting soon turned into a debate over the meaning of a city tax ordinance and the intended uses of the money collected through it.
Following regularly scheduled agenda items at the May 14 Pittsburg City Commission meeting, Mayor Patrick O’Bryan gave a public response to comments made by Pittsburg State University Assistant Professor Bill Strenth at the April 23 commission meeting, saying that “as his parting shot, he made mention of the commission’s ridiculing of a commissioner.”
At that meeting, Strenth said that city commissioners “should take a real hard look at anything that is proposed prior to rubber stamping what is presented” to them.
“Commissioner Munsell is the only one that ever questions anything, and he is ridiculed by the rest of you for asking questions,” Strenth said.
O’Bryan said May 14 that he wanted to take exception to Strenth’s comments. In many years serving on the commission, he said, the commissioners have always treated each other respectfully.
“And I know (Commissioner) Chuck (Munsell) has been questioned on a number of things from time to time by some of us, and I see nothing wrong with that,” O’Bryan said. “To me that’s what our job is here: to understand his concerns as a fellow commissioner, to question his information, to question his motives, and I don’t see a thing wrong with anything that any of us have done.”
Commissioner Munsell, in turn, responded to O’Bryan’s comments, thanking O’Bryan and saying he understood where O’Bryan was coming from.
Munsell also said he had a request regarding the city’s street maintenance sales tax.
“When we go to the city’s web page and we click on ‘Street Sales Tax,’ I would like to see the wording reflected in the ordinance that was passed in 2015,” Munsell said.
The city’s website currently states that “Pittsburg voters overwhelmingly approved renewal of a quarter-cent street sales tax in September 2015 to provide additional funding for the construction, alteration, repair, and maintenance of City streets.”
Munsell said he was concerned that the words “construction” and “alteration” were not in the ordinance when it was approved, “because in my mind, that if we leave that there, and say a developer comes to our city at some point in the future and they might look at this, well this would probably make them think that ‘Well, this sales tax might pay for construction and alteration of the streets.’ Actually it’s for repair and maintenance of the streets we have now, which we need both sales tax, because we’ve got a lot of problems with our streets.”
O’Bryan then joined Munsell in debating the wording of the description on the city’s website of the street maintenance sales tax.
“When you repair or resurface these streets, how does that not go under the heading of construction?” O’Bryan said. “Now, if it would have said ‘new construction,’ then I can understand it. But it doesn’t say ‘new,’ it says construction and alteration.”
Munsell said he understands that repairing streets involves construction, but that the city might have wanted to put the terms “construction” and “alteration” in the wording of the ordinance when it was put to voters for approval.
“But it wasn’t there, and I think that we just need to leave it like it was, for people to vote, not change it now, because then you’re going to have people saying ‘Well, what are we up to now?’” Munsell said.
O’Bryan said he didn’t see the addition of the words “construction” and “alteration” as a change.
Commissioner Dan McNally first said he didn’t have any issues with the wording.
Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth then said she hadn’t “had considerable time to think about it,” and that she would like to take a closer look at the wording in the original ordinance as compared with the description on the city’s website.
“I would like to look over it as well,” McNally said.
The commissioners agreed to further discuss the issue at the next meeting.
While Munsell and O’Bryan’s discussion of the difference between the wording of the original street sales tax ordinance and the description of it on the city website might seem like a minor argument over semantics, discussions at previous commission meetings this year could explain why some might see it as having more substance to it.
At the city commission’s March 19 meeting, the commission approved spending $60,000 from the city’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) to pay for new road construction in the Silverback Landing housing development “which when combined with a similar amount from the street sales tax, will enable the City to construct concrete roads in Silverback Landing,” according to the meeting’s agenda.
Silverback Landing is a planned housing development located in an area east of Rouse, south of Quincy, and north of Centennial in Pittsburg.
At the March 26 commission meeting, Pittsburg resident Cheryl Brooks suggested the city had improperly awarded funds from the street maintenance sales tax to pay for new roads in Silverback Landing. At the same meeting, City Attorney Henry Menghini clarified that the only thing the commission voted on at the previous meeting was RLF funding for the Silverback Landing project.
Asked by City Commissioner Chenoweth to clarify that he was saying the commission had not voted to spend street sales tax money on the project, Menghini responded that this was correct.
At the commission’s April 9 meeting, in response to a question from Commissioner Dawn McNay, City Manager Daron Hall said that if the commission decided to do so the city could find money to pay for the concrete streets from another source besides the street sales tax, though he had previously argued for using street maintenance sales tax funds to help pay for the Silverback Landing roads.
At that same meeting, Mayor O’Bryan said it seemed to him that the time to make a decision on how to fund the concrete road project in Silverback Landing would be when the city was putting together its budget, but added that he didn’t personally think the money should come from the street maintenance sales tax.
Also during the April 9 meeting, Commissioner Munsell questioned whether voters upset over the street sales tax paying for Silverback Landing roads might vote against renewing the tax, which would be problematic for the city government.
“I would hope that we don’t put it in people’s minds not to vote for the street sales tax because we used it somewhere where they didn’t think we should be using it,” he said.