Council discusses levy options

By Sheryl Roadcap -

SIDNEY —Sidney City Council discussed the results of a tax levy survey during Monday evening’s workshop session.

The city of Sidney is in the process of trying to determine the best way to continue revenue after the 0.25 percent income tax street repairs levy expires at the end of 2019. City Manager Mark Cundiff, in prior council meetings, said without that revenue the city will be unable to maintain the current level of street maintenance or staff and equip a third fire station.

Burges & Burges Strategists was selected to conduct a community survey to help inform City Council the best way to proceed with placing a permanent 1.80 percent income tax levy on the ballot. The purpose of the survey is to help determine whether to place two separate levies on the ballot or combine funding needs into one, and if they both should be permanent income tax levies.

Jill Billman-Royer, senior vice-president of Burges & Burges Strategists presented the findings from a telephone poll of 224 likely voters that was conducted Dec. 12 through Dec. 16, by LJR Custom Strategies, a sub-consultant to Burges & Burges Strategists.

The sample was derived from an updated list of registered voters who voted in at least two of the last four general elections and one of the last four primary elections. Surveyors asked about respondents’ thoughts on the following subjects:

• Quality of life in Sidney;

• How well they are informed about Sidney’s needs and services offered to residents;

• Sidney’s priorities;

• If they would vote for an earned income tax levy.

• Reasons to support or oppose the levy;

• The cost, whether annual or monthly;

• If the city is a good steward of tax dollars;

• If city leaders make decisions that are in the best interest of the community.

Billman-Royer told council the overall perceptions of the city were generally positive, in terms of the quality of life, positive direction of the city, cost of living, tax rate, fiscal stewardship and public services.

“The support for the street repairs and maintenance was overwhelming,” she said, “and community leaders expressed satisfaction with how the earned income tax dollars are being spent.”

She told council fire and emergency services ranked as a very high priority during this process. Throughout the discussions, Billman-Royer said, the vast majority of participants made clear their genuine concern for the level of service and well-being of fellow neighbors.

She recommended for council and city staff members to be out in the community talking to residents in different forums. She told council members they need to attend various club meetings to help inform people. She noted informed respondents were generally more in support of the levy than voters who know considerably less.

The results indicated most people surveyed were more in favor of one levy opposed to two separate levies, and that a continuous levy was the preference, Billman-Royer confirmed.

“It is evident that clear and regular communication will be a vital part of the process once the city determines the best and most feasible path forward. Those communications are also essential for members of the community to feel they have ‘a voice at the table’ and are making informed decisions about their community’s future,” Billman-Royer said.

After some brief discussion, the consensus among council was to likely put the two funding needs on one levy, likely on the May primary ballot. However, council intends to continue the discussion further at the regular Jan. 28 meeting.

By Sheryl Roadcap

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.