In a 6 to 3 vote, the City Council voted to hold a special election Tuesday, July 23, to gain the public’s approval to use the 5 Mill Tax Fund to help cover the $46 million cost of Auburn City Schools projects.
The vote to hold the election took place Thursday morning in the city meeting room following Ward 5 Council member Steven Dixon’s denial of unanimous consent during the first vote at Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled Council meeting.
Dixon said at both meetings that he denied unanimous consent because he thought the election should be held in August once school is back in session. He and other council members agreed that an August election would allow for more voters to be in town because school would be in session.
“As a person representing the citizens of Auburn, I want to make sure that the citizens have every opportunity to cast their ballot,” Dixon said. “Yes, absentee is an option, but it is not convenient. Making voting convenient so that more people vote is never a bad thing.”
The Council was required to vote unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting in order to set the election date for July 23. At Thursday morning’s meeting, since it was the second time the Council heard the ordinance to set the election date, only 5 votes were needed.
The election in July will cover the 5 Mill Tax Fund. Voters will decide if the fund will be used to cover the cost of the construction projects at Cary Woods Elementary School and J.F. Drake Middle School, according to information provided with the Council’s agenda Tuesday night.
The Council was only voting on what day to set the special election so the public could vote on the tax fund.
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Council members for wards 3, 4, 5 and 7 bore blue and orange buttons that read “Auburn City Schools” along the top with “#Community” in the center. They all debated and asked City Manager Jim Buston questions for about 40 minutes before voting.
Ward 1 Council member Connie Fitch Taylor, Ward 6 Council member Bob Parsons and Dixon, each voted no. During the discussion before the vote, Dixon and Parsons expressed their concerns for holding an election during the summer.
Parsons said it was his understanding that moving the election date to August would have minimal impact on the projects. Several members of his ward came to him in support of moving the election to August because it would be after summer vacation when more voters will likely be in town.
“We’re talking about giving the voting public an opportunity to vote in August after summer has occurred,” Parsons said. “We’re extending it possibly three or four weeks. In a timeline of 30 years, I think it is very reasonable, and I think it shows good will from this City Council.”
The ballot voters will see the special election shows bond rates for the next 30 years, beginning in November 2020. These are the rates the city will pay toward the bonds that are funding the school projects if the voters approve to use the tax fund for those projects.
Other Council members echoed their statements from Tuesday night. Ward 4 Council member Brett Smith said the July 23 date was vetted by several bodies, such as Auburn City Schools and Auburn University, and was determined to be the best date for the election.
“I think it is an extreme amount of hubris for a council member to sit up here and say ‘all the hard work you did, all the hard work the staff did.' All the hard work is some sort of loop hole, or something, that got us here to today and some sort of conspiracy,” Smith said.
Things also got personal during the meeting as Parsons brought up comments that Council members, such as Ward 3 Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Beth Witten and Smith, had made on their respective Facebook pages.
Smith responded by going through the facts he had pertaining to the vote the Council was about to take and checking them with the city manager. He said the responsible thing to do is trust the experts that choose July 23 as the election date.
Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson said the Council needed to find a way to work together because they are not setting a good example right now.
“I’ll make a pledge here today in front of everybody,” Dawson said. “I will work harder to get along with this Council, but I ask that some of you do the same thing.”
Taylor, the Ward 1 Council member, said she thought the Thursday morning meeting would be simple because they were only voting on the election date, but she thought many members were not sticking to the topic at hand.
It’s up to the voters to decide what to do with the 5 Mill Tax Fund, the Council just needs to tell them when to vote, Taylor said.
As the vote ended and the meeting was coming to a close, Mayor Ron Anders said that the Council is made up of many different people, each with their own viewpoints, but they all have the same goal.
“We can be greater,” Anders said. “I look forward to moving Auburn to its greatest time ever.”
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