There seems to be a great deal of hand-wringing over whether local residents should attempt to put Rapid City’s most recent property tax hike to a public vote.
Around 80 people attended a city council meeting where the issue was discussed for over an hour. At the end of the sometimes heated debate, the council voted 6-4 against a resolution of support for putting the tax hike on the ballot.
The vote, however, doesn't prevent local citizens from circulating petitions in a bid to put the issue in the hands of registered voters.
City officials, including Mayor Allender, and some council members indicated they believe a special election for a 1 percent property tax hike was, as one council member said, “a complete waste of taxpayer money.”
Other objections were that inflation raises costs, the election would generate more work for the city, the city has adopted 128 miles of roads in the past 10 years that are costly to maintain, and other cities don’t require councils to publicly vote on the annual consumer price index (CPI) increase state law entitles them to take.
Those who are opposed to the tax hike, including members of the group Citizens for Liberty, say they are taking a stand based on principle and sending a message that tax hikes will be scrutinized.
The debate on whether this merits a public vote does not concern a lot of money, which may contribute to the frustration of city officials who are charged with providing services in a regional hub of around 70,000 people that hosts tens of thousands of visitors every year. It is a daunting task.
The 1 percent property tax hike approved as part of the city budget is expected to generate around $161,000 of a $164 million budget, an increase of 3 percent from the previous fiscal year when it was $159 million. It is estimated it will cost property owners an additional $3.20 per $100,000 of valuation. A special election is estimated to cost at least $60,000.
These facts, figures and circumstances should be considered before signing a petition to put this on the ballot — and that's the beauty of the process. It engages the public in the operation of the city. Just as state law allows municipalities to approve CPI increases, it allows registered voters to challenge the decisions of city councils.
One important aspect of democracy — as imperfect as it can be — is holding elected officials accountable and that mostly happens on election day.
The city council vigorously debated the budget and the resolution to support putting the property tax hike on the ballot. It's been a grinding but good process to this point. But state law allows voters to challenge spending decisions with special elections if enough signatures — 2,233 at this time in Rapid City — are collected to put it on the ballot.
If petitions are circulated, however, voters need to weigh the facts, carefully consider if this merits a special election and decide if a message has already been sent to our elected officials and then hope they are listening as raising taxes should never be considered a routine matter.