PITTSBURG — For the second meeting in a row, the Pittsburg City Commission on Tuesday discussed the differences between the wording of its street maintenance sales tax ordinance, and the description of the sales tax on the city’s website.
“The revenue from said sales tax shall be used to pay for the maintenance and repair of city streets, and not to exceed Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) annually to pay for a sidewalk repair matching fund for property owners,” states the text of Ordinance No. S-1048, passed in July, 2017.
The tax “shall be used to maintain and repair city streets, and shall expire five (5) years from the date such additional retailers sales tax is first collected,” an earlier version of the ordinance passed in 2015 states.
A description of the street maintenance sales tax on the city’s website, however, uses slightly different wording, stating 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.”
Commissioner Sarah Chenoweth said Tuesday that since the last meeting, she had tried to look up the ordinance, and finding it on the city’s website was not as easy as might be expected.
“I’m not a web developer. I would make a lot more money if I was,” Chenoweth said.
“I don’t remember who does our website, and I’m sure that they have lots on their plate, but I think that it would really cool somewhere on the home page just to say ‘Hey, to view ordinances, click here.’”
Commissioner Chuck Munsell asked Chenoweth if she eventually found the ordinance, which she said she did.
“So did you have any concerns with the words ‘construction’ and ‘alteration’ added to the ordinance that was approved by the voters?” Munsell asked.
“What’s on the website is pared down,” Chenoweth said. “We don’t all speak legalese,” she said, later adding that the description of the tax on the city website is “a paraphrase.”
Pressed on the issue of whether she had concerns about the website wording by Mayor Patrick O’Bryan, however, Chenoweth said “a compromise” in the form of her suggestion of making the text of city ordinances more easily accessible on the website could help solve the problem.
“Because language on a website isn’t legally binding, right?,” Chenoweth said. “The actual ordinance is legally binding. So the ordinance says the thing that the people voted on.”
Munsell said he’d like to see the wording on the city website “as the ordinance reads: for the maintenance and repair of city streets.”
In response to a question from Munsell, Mayor O’Bryan said he didn’t think the website wording was misleading. Munsell said he thought it was, and subsequently made a motion to change the website wording to more closely reflect the ordinance language. The motion wasn’t seconded.
Part of the controversy over the website wording stems from a city commission meeting in March, when 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. City commissioners indicated that they were in favor of finding other sources of funding besides the street maintenance tax to pay for new construction of roads in Silverback Landing.
“I don’t know why the two words were added,” Munsell said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Somebody approved those words to be added to it, and I just feel like it’s misleading because it’s not for construction or alteration, it’s for maintenance and repair.”
City of Pittsburg Public Information Manager Sarah Runyon told the Morning Sun on Wednesday that she didn’t know who wrote the words “construction” and “alteration” in the description on the website or who made the decision to include them. She said the page was created in March 2017 and last edited in May 2017, and included the two words from the time it was created. Runyon started her job with the city in August 2017.
Runyon said the city is working on solutions to some of the issues with the website that have been brought up. She plans to meet with Commissioner Chenoweth next week to discuss the possibility of making ordinances more easily accessible on the website, she said.
“This is the first time I think the commissioners have weighed in on the content on our website,” Runyon said.
Runyon said that because Munsell’s motion to change the website wording to more closely reflect the ordinance wording was not seconded, city staff will not be changing the description of the street maintenance sales tax on its website, though they plan to create a link to the actual ordinance on the web page describing it.
Runyon said the city is constantly working to make it easier for residents to find information they’re looking for and to make its website more user-friendly.