SANFORD: Council weighs pros, cons of bond referendum

Jun. 18, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Two Sanford City Council members expressed their desire to postpone the city's proposed $14.5 million bond referendum during Monday's budget workshop session.

Council met at 4 p.m. Monday in anticipation of today's vote on the 2013-2014 budget, but the discussion turned toward the bond referendum — which, if approved by the voters, would include funds for an expansion of the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway, streetscape improvements to downtown Sanford and Jonesboro, sidewalk improvements and recreational purposes — and its potential impact on residents.

With the 2013 property tax revaluation, there are several residents who may face higher property values and, thus, higher property taxes, according to council member Samuel Gaskins. Postponing the bond referendum, which is slated for the November ballot, would give the city more time to explain how the community projects would impact residents.

"Maybe if we get through this year when there are less changes, it will be a little bit better," Gaskins said. 

Council member L.I. "Poly" Cohen also said he's be interested in suspending the bond referendum until the economy has improved.

"I have been thinking about the bond referendum a lot," he said. "There are a lot of unemployed people in Lee County and Sanford, and maybe we should postpone the referendum until employment has gotten a little bit better."

Council members Jimmy Haire, Charles Taylor and Rebecca Wyhof all said they were in favor of pressing forward with the bond referendum and letting the voters decide on the issue.

"I am very concerned that we are taking something out of the citizens' hands," Taylor said. "We have discussed this beyond belief. ... We have had several votes and resolutions regarding this referendum, and to take it out of the citizens' hands is a slap in the face."

During her time campaigning, Wyhof said she met several people who felt the council talked and discussed several good ideas but never acted on them.

"No one was willing to step up and take concrete action," she said. "I am for moving forward."

Council member J.D. Williams said after the meeting he was in favor of letting the people decide while council member Walter McNeil said he hadn't decided where he stood on the referendum.

A public hearing concerning the bond referendum is scheduled for today at 7 p.m. at the Sanford Municipal Center, located at 224 E. Weatherspoon St. 

Council also debated a variety of methods to cut the proposed property tax rate — including not spending approximately $500,000 to pave city roads, lowering the fuel budget and increasing golf fees — but a consensus was not reached. The discussion did not change the proposed budget, according to City Manager Hal Hegwer, who said council will continue to debate the items during tonight's meeting.

The proposed $44.1 million budget, for the 2013-2014 fiscal year which begins July 1, includes a 7 cent property tax increase from revenue neutral. The proposed rate is 58 cents per $100 valuation, up from the current rate of 54 cents.