City council dismisses plan for public vote on new taxes

From left, Councilwoman Melina Meyer and Councilman Ken Jones discuss a plan that would revise how city tax policy is set. (Feb. 19, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Cordova City Council has dismissed a plan to put most tax increases to a public vote. The plan, outlined by Councilman Ken Jones, would require a majority vote of the people to implement new or increased taxes, with a possible exception made for property taxes.

Jones was the sole council member to offer a robust defense of the plan at a Wednesday, Feb. 19 work session devoted to discussion of the issue. Allowing the public to participate more directly in setting tax policy would help combat out-of-control city spending, Jones said.

Councilman Jeff Guard criticized the plan, saying that it would make an already complex process even more burdensome. City council already solicits public input on new measures, and it’s already possible for citizens to challenge unpopular taxes by referendum, Guard said.

“We’re elected by the people to do the business of the people,” Guard said. “If we give up the right to balance their budget and figure out what we’re doing, we’re tying our hands… I don’t see that it does us any good at all. We’ve got plenty of safeguards now as it is.”

Although the public is free to offer input, many residents have become burnt out after repeatedly voicing their concerns to a city council that seemingly does not listen, Jones said.

“You guys are exactly right: it’s going to tie the hands of the council, and that’s exactly what I want it to do,” Jones said. “Every year I’ve been on council, it’s, ‘Oh, what new tax can we raise now?’ … Frankly, I’m a little sick of it, and I think that the voters should get a say, especially when they don’t really get a say when the seats are run unopposed.”

If city council would not approve the plan, supporters would instead mount a ballot initiative, Jones said.

Some council members who opposed the plan voiced sympathy for Jones’s concerns about tax levels. The city should strive for greater public transparency regarding where tax revenues are spent, Mayor Clay Koplin said.