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Newsletter ignores plan to curtail voting

Staff writer

A newsletter mailed with Marion utility bills contains an edited version of a charter ordinance, omitting how the ordinance would curtail voters’ rights.

Added to the text is what appears to a threat that if voters challenge the ordinance, planned improvements would be delayed.

The version distributed by the city omits roughly half of the ordinance’s words.

Community engagement director Margo Yates, who designed the newsletter, said there was no way to get the full wording of the ordinance to fit and she didn’t mean to omit important information.

“I’m just doing what I’m told to do,” Yates said. “I’m not trying to purposely leave anything out.”

The version in the newsletter has a final paragraph stating that the ordinance will take effect 60 days after it is published a second time in the Record “unless a petition signed by a number equal to not less than 10% of those who voted in the last city election demanding a referendum.

If the ordinance is upheld, bond elections no longer would be needed. City council members would be allowed to issue bonds without taxpayers having any say on the matter unless a petition signed by 10% of all voters in the last election is presented within 30 days. The city would then need to hold an election, as now is required for all such borrowing. It could be a special election or added to a general election.

According to county clerk Tina Spencer, to get a bond question or a referendum on the ordinance added to the November election, it would need to be submitted to the clerk’s office by Sept. 1.

Resident Darvin Markley, who spoke against the charter ordinance at a July 25 meeting because it bypasses a public vote, said he would circulate a petition opposing it.

The ordinance passed on a split vote with council member Ruth Herbel voting against it.

A stipulation of the charter ordinance, mirroring existing state law, which the ordinance otherwise seeks to overrule, is that bonds would need to be issued in support of projects on a master plan drawn up by a city manager. State law specifies a plan drawn up by a city engineer.

Mayor David Mayfield said during meetings that bond payments would be made with proceeds of a 0.75% sales tax imposed 21 years ago for improvements to the city industrial park.

Part of the intended bonds would be used for industrial park improvement, and the rest for 10 blocks of street improvement, although only two blocks of improvements outside that general area were included on first year priority items in the plan.

If proceeds from the sales tax are not sufficient to make bond payments, property tax proceeds would be used instead, according to Beth Warren of bond consultants Ranson and City Code Financial.

Technically, if the city were to default, it could be forced to raise property taxes because the bonds technically would be general obligation rather than formally ties to sales tax revenue.

Last modified Aug. 11, 2022

 

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