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Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2002

ECO2 rethinking sales tax idea

Rift over money split leads committee to ‘put everything back on the table’

February 6, 2002

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After a trio of closed-door meetings Tuesday, members of a Lawrence Chamber of Commerce committee said they were rethinking plans to seek a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would fund economic development efforts and open space acquisition.

Instead, members of ECO2 agreed to look at other alternatives to fund their goals of generating 12,000 new industrial jobs during the next 10 years while preserving prime environmental, scenic and historical properties throughout the county.

Committee Chair Kelvin Heck said re-examining the funding issue might delay a countywide vote on the plan until April 2003. The group had been working toward a vote in November.

"We know the sales tax is not a particularly popular tax," Heck said. "There aren't many popular taxes out there, but we need to examine all the possible options.

"I'd say everything is back on the table again. It could be sales taxes; it could be property taxes; it could be some sort of bonds, or it could be some private fund drives."

Douglas County Commissioner Charles Jones, also an ECO2 member, said the group may look at redirecting some revenues from the current 1 percent county sales tax. The tax was approved by voters in 1994 to raise funds mainly for the new Douglas County Jail, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Lawrence parks and recreation and property tax relief.

The decision to rethink the committee's proposal came a week after Heck unexpectedly asked the group to consider backing away from a major element of the plan requiring the new sales tax revenue to be split equally between economic development and open space preservation.

Jones and other open space proponents said they would withdraw support without the 50-50 provision.

"I think with this project we're sort of vacillating between our hopes and fears," Jones said. "Last week's meeting pushed some of us toward our fears, but I think this week maybe began to pull us back toward our hopes."

Heck said it was possible the group would ask for a package that generates less revenue than the $20 million the original 10-year, quarter-cent sales tax increase would have produced. Heck said the group's open space and business park subcommittees were developing more specific numbers for the amount of money it would take to accomplish their goals.

A plan for ECO2 to present its findings to the Douglas County Commission by the end of this month is probably moot now, Heck said. The commission would have to approve adding a countywide question to the ballot.

Heck wouldn't say when the group might present a proposal to the commission.

Tuesday's meetings were closed to the public because the group broke into its three subcommittees, which meet in private. The subcommittees will meet again next Tuesday. Those meetings also will be closed to the public.

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