In less than five weeks, Hancock County voters have some important decisions to make. No, they are critical decisions.
Issue 3, if approved, would continue a quarter-percent sales tax for flood control for 10 years. Issue 4, if approved, would add another quarter-percent sales tax to fund construction of a jail addition, a county administration building and pay the added operations costs for 20 years.
Both taxes address important community needs and are necessary to move the county forward.
The Hancock County commissioners and other county officials have made a strong case for Issue 4, detailing the costs of the proposed buildings, needed repairs at the existing jail, and the additional money that will be needed to operate them.
Flood control, meanwhile, remains the county’s top priority, but future plans are not so clear. A widening project for a section of the Blanchard River, just west of downtown Findlay, is planned for next year, but beyond that no further project has been approved by the Maumee Conservancy District, which is overseeing our flood-control efforts.
Right now Stantec, the engineering firm developing flood-reduction plans, is reviewing several proposed projects, but is not expected to reveal its final flood-reduction plan until next spring.
The lack of direction is a main reason why the three county commissioners should strongly consider a request by two groups to withdraw Issue 3 from the ballot until more is known.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Brian Robertson made a motion to do just that after two groups indicated that a sales tax issue shouldn’t proceed without a more defined plan for flood control.
But the motion didn’t get a second from either Mark Gazarek or Tim Bechtol, and unless either reconsiders, Issue 3 will be decided by voters on Nov. 7.
Opposition to Issue 3 is clearly growing. The commissioners should give more thought to positions raised by the Blanchard River Watershed Solutions and the Hancock United for a Better Blanchard, and delay a vote on the flood sales tax until next spring.
Letters written to the commissioners in the past week by each group have a common thread: We have a problem that still needs to be fixed, and a time out will allow the community to work through its differences about how flood control should be done.
Certainly, the two groups’ request puts the commissioners in a tough spot. For a decade, people have been pushing for flood-control progress, funding and more action from the commissioners. Now, just when there is a project nearing startup, the commissioners are being asked to hit the pause button in order to build a better partnership within the community.
There is a risk in slowing the momentum by pulling the issue, since a loss of local funding could endanger future flood-control projects, something that concerns Gazarek. While that’s a legitimate concern, it could certainly be overcome by continuing efforts to find common ground between business and ag interests.
Both groups will be doing the entire community a favor by working to make their conversations as public as possible. Secrecy and private meetings don’t build trust.
We hope that ideas that are talked about locally and supported by the majority of stakeholders will become part of the project review that the county is paying Stantec to do. Voters will find it much easier to support a tax request if proposed projects are clear on the horizon.
Dropping Issue 3, and putting it back on the ballot in the 2018 primary, would give the community a better opportunity to see where the tax money will be spent.
If the commissioners decide to pull the tax issue, and we believe they should, much of the pressure will shift to the two groups which made the request to find common ground. If future flood-control projects fail to materialize, many may put those groups in the same boat as the Army Corps of Engineers and send it down the river.
The risk of any delay may be great, but a pause on Issue 3 will prove warranted if common ground can be found between city residents and rural ones. Current flood funding runs through the end of 2018, so there is time to revisit the sales tax issue next year without interrupting funding.
Come spring, Stantec should have a short list of flood-reduction projects for the watershed for residents to consider, and voters would have a single sales tax issue to decide instead of two.
Stepping back from the flood-control issue, if only briefly, will allow more community focus on Issue 4 between now and Nov. 7.
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