Citizen Protest Forces Clark County Commissioners To Rescind Utility Tax and Jake Brake Ordinances
By Mike Scott
There were no pitchforks or torches, but over 50 area farmers marched into the Clark County Courthouse at 9:00am Thursday morning, June 24, prompted by the news that the Clark County Commission had recently extended the half-cent sales tax to include taxing metered utilities, and that they had passed an ordinance to prohibit the use of “jake brakes” in the county.
Mark Plenge addressed the “jake brake” issue first.
“Jake brakes are a safety device, and there are numerous places in the county where we all use them,” Plenge said.
“We’ve had complaints on Ferguson Hill,” responded Presiding Commissioner Paul Allen.
“Maybe we ought to revise this to be a noise ordinance,” suggested Commission Jerry Neyens.
“Where will it end?” asked Plenge. “We all have loud equipment. What if our grain dryer is too loud and someone complains. What if were combining at 10pm?”
Several questions were asked, including how the ordinance would be enforced. Harold “Bub” Campbell noted that typically counties do not pass “jake brake” restrictions, however several cities do have ordinances.
After considerable discussion, Commissioner Roger Sedore made the motion to repeal the ordinance prohibiting “jake brakes” as written, and to talk to their legal counsel about a noise ordinance.
Next was the issue of extending the one-half cent sales tax to include metered utilities, which the Commissioners passed on April 20, two weeks after the voters approved the tax for the construction of a new courthouse in the April 6 election. The Commissioners stated that it was to establish a maintenance fund for the new courthouse.
Darrel Dean had first visited with the Commissioner on the tax issue at their Tuesday, June 22 meeting, and the Commissioners voted at that time to rescind the ordinance. On Thursday, however, they voted to keep the ordinance as written, before the citizen group arrived.
“This county is mad. You guys are hammering us,” said Dean.
“We discussed the utility tax earlier this morning. It will be left on,” said Commissioner Neyens.
The commissioners were asked if the tax on metered utilities could also be extended from the county’s other half-cent taxes: Road & Bridge, Law Enforcement, and General Revenue.
“Yes”, replied Commission Neyens.
Asked if they were planning to do so, Neyens answered, “Not at this time.
Commissoner Neyens stated that the county expected the tax to generate about $15,000, but Jeff Arnold thoought it could cost his operation as much as $5000 per year.
The Commissioners could not explain exactly what was included in the language of the ordinance, or whether utilities used by farms would be included in the tax increase.
“You’ve passed a law, and you don’t know what’s in there,” said Steve Oilar. “It show that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
The commissioners were asked where they got the idea for the tax and the ordinance language. According to the Commissioners, Greg Bricker, of the bonding company George K. Baum, had given them the information. The commissioners were asked if Bricker was paid by commission, and they answered “yes”. Asked how much he was paid, Commissioner Neyens first said he did not have that information available, but shortly after that stated Bricker’s fee was 2 percent of the $4 million project.
“Is it normal that we have to pull teeth just to get information,” asked Oilar. “So in a round about way, you’re still trying to pay for the courthouse.
“Do we need 30-40 guys sitting here every meeting to know what’s going on?” asked Jeff Arnold.
Commissioner Neyens suggested that they get clarification from the state as to exactly what items would be subject to the sales tax increase.
“And what if it is on everything?” asked Oilar.
“Then that’s’ the way it is,” responded Neyens.
Following more discussion and periods of long, awkward silence, Commissioner Sedore made the motion to rescind the half-cent sales tax on metered utilities. Commissioner Neyens seconded the motion, and it was approved unanimously.
An ordinance repealing the extension of the tax to metered utilities was signed by all three commissioners, and County Clerk Leih Ann Hayden notified the Department of Revenue by fax and certified mail of the repeal.