...taxpayer says he's collecting signatures to force public vote on Hancock Co. nickel tax, doesn't see any problems with existing buildings

Hancock Clarion, Hawesville, April 28, 2016

Group working to secure enough signatures to put ‘Nickel Tax’ on ballot
By Dave Taylor

The Hancock County School Board has voted to pass its proposed nickel tax, and at least one man is making use of the 45-day recall window to voice his opposition to the vote.

Darrell Moffitt, a local business owner, is going to use the mandated pause during which the public can stop, or recall, the tax, to form a committee and gather signatures in hopes of sending it up for a public vote.

“It’s a forced tax,” he said. “It’s not voted on by the community.”

“I don’t feel like six board members should speak for the majority of Hancock County voters,” he said.

Without a required amount of opposition, the tax will be official on June 6, 45 days from its passage on April 21. With enough signatures, the tax will either be recalled entirely, or placed on a ballot for the county voters to decide.

The required minimum number of signatures must be equal to 10 percent of the number of county residents who voted in the last presidential election, which according to the county clerk Trina Ogle, would mean a requirement of 432 names.

Moffitt is collecting signatures to get his and others’ voices heard, he said, not necessarily because he’s out to stop the tax all together.

“It’s not that I’m against this tax, it’s the fact that we don’t have a say in it,” he said. “If it goes to the ballot and it passes I’m ok with it.”

The new tax will levy an additional five cents of taxes per $100 of assessed value on real and tangible property, money that will be used to either build a new school or to make upgrades to the currents ones.

But Moffitt thinks that the current middle school and high school, the ones most often mentioned as possibilities for replacement, still look pretty good.

“I have grandchidren that will go to that school and I want them to have the best education,” he said, “but I personally don’t see nothing wrong with the facilities we have at the moment.”

“Most of the voting public that I’ve spoken to, they don’t really see the need at this particular time to build a new school and that is how it was sold to us, is the way that I feel like it was sold to me,” he said.

In the public hearing and in presentations to various groups, superintendent Kyle Estes said that even without building a new school the county school board is lack ing the funds to maintain its facilities and bring them up to the level that is recommended by the Department of Education.

But that argument doesn’t sway Moffitt, who points out that new buildings will require maintenance and upgrades just the same.

“Why would you want to pitch it as building a new school to create another expense that you can’t afford to maintain?” he said. “I don’t care if you build a brand new school or if it’s an old school, they’ve all got to be maintained… That to me was a terrible sales pitch.”

And the uncertain future of what will happen to the building that’s replaced means that it might also need money spent on it too.

“They didn’t say they were going to tear the schools down,” he said. "What will happen is they’ll say we’ll remodel these and we’ll do this with them. Where’s that money going to come from? Another tax.”

Things like that should be cleared up before any tax is levied to pay for future construction, he said.

“I think the public wants to know,” he said.

The very thought of a new tax doesn’t sit too well with Moffitt anyway, who said that governmental entities turn too often to the taxpayers for bailouts.

“We just got hit with Obamacare a few years ago, people are paying more money out of their pocket. I think people are feeling taxed to death and don’t feel like their income has increased,” he said. “What are we told if we don’t have enough money at the house to pay our bills? Well you need to look at your budget. Live within your means. I think the school board needs to look at their budget.”

Moffitt also worries about the effect the higher property taxes will have on the industry, which will be paying more on their facilities as well as their inventories.

“The way (my family) ended up here in Hancock County was because of this industry,” he said.

His family, like many others, came in the boom that was created by the industries that began to locate here.

“This was a fairly impoverished community the way I understand it, before then,” he said.

“If we keep raising taxes we’re going to kill the goose that’s laying the golden egg in this community,” he said.

But amid his concerns, the one he reiterated was simple: to let the public have a say.

“My main point is I don’t think the community is represented,” he said. “I think the community wants to be heard on this.”

“There is a bunch that are saying hey, we feel like we need this. I’m like, ok, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “I’m just speaking for people that I feel like are against this and that’s the only reason we’re doing this.”

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