Nolan attributes passage of Prop 1 to quality of citizens in Sunset Hills

Capital-improvement sales tax will be collected permanently

By Mike Anthony

The overwhelming approval of a permanent extension of Sunset Hills’ half-cent, capital improvement sales tax is “a reflection on the quality of the citizens” of the city, according to Mayor Bill Nolan.

The sales-tax extension, Proposition 1, received nearly 74 percent of the vote in the Aug. 7 election, according to unofficial results. Prop 1 received 1,499 “yes” votes — 73.77 percent — and 533 “no” votes — 26.23 percent. A simple majority was required for approval.

The ballot language for Proposition 1 asked voters if the city should continue to impose the half-cent sales tax for the purpose of funding capital improvements and paying the costs of operation and maintenance of those capital improvements.

“I really think it’s a reflection on the quality of the citizens of Sunset Hills,” Nolan said of the outcome of the election. “This is an outstanding city, and we’ve got an outstanding group of citizens. I mean, they pay attention and they want the city to do well. They want their city to be maintained …”

“Never underestimate the intelligence of the Sunset Hills voter. I mean they read, they learn about the proposition and then they vote. They’re educated, and this was an issue that required education,” the mayor said. “This situation required study, required people to understand what we were trying to do and how the city was going to accomplish it …

“Seventy-five percent of the voters in Sunset Hills, at least, went to the polls fully informed and made the right decision, based on the information they had.”

The half-cent, capital-improvement sales tax originally was approved by Sunset Hills voters in 1994 to fund a more than $5.7 million bond issue for City Hall repairs, a new police station, a new public works building and street improvements, among other items.

A committee of Sunset Hills residents promoted the passage of the sales-tax extension. The Say Yes Again Committee was chaired by Mike Hogan, who was appointed to the city’s Finance Committee in June.

In 1994, a committee of residents promoted passage of the capital-improvement sales tax and seven other tax-related measures with the slogan “Say Yes for Sunset Hills.”

That is why the group of residents promoting Prop 1 called itself the Say Yes Again Committee.

“Every member of the Board of Aldermen was supporting the passage (of Prop 1),” Nolan said. “They all signed up for the Say Yes Again Committee. Mike Hogan, who served as chairman, was thrilled with the result, obviously, along with all the committee members. It was a good day in Sunset Hills …”

The bonds from the original passage of the capital-improvement sales tax were issued in 1996, refunded in 2004 and were set to be retired in 2016.

Without approval of Prop 1, the half-cent, capital-improvement sales tax would have ended in 2016 when the bonds were retired.

The capital-improvement sales tax currently represents roughly 12.5 percent of the city’s total gross revenue.

When the remaining bonds totaling $450,000 are redeemed, the city will save an estimated $41,000 in net interest expense and have a cash surplus of more than $238,000 in the capital-improvement fund.

In addition, the tax will continue to generate $875,000 per year for capital improvements.

Of the passage of Prop 1, Nolan said, “This accomplishes two things. It makes the capital-improvement sales tax a part of our permanent budget, No. 1. No. 2, it allows us to get rid of the remainder of the bonds outstanding and eliminates a debt on the city that we’re paying 4.25 percent interest on.”

The savings from retiring the outstanding bonds accrues directly to taxpayers, the mayor noted.

“This is the taxpayers’ interest money. The money that we’re spending on interest belongs to them,” he said. “They should get streets. They should get sidewalks. They should get work done in return for that money.”

Noting Sunset Hills is nine square miles in size, Nolan said, “Geographically, we’re three times the size of Crestwood … When you look at a map, you go, ‘Wait a minute, Sunset Hills is a big place. So capital improvements and maintaining streets and so on is a different unit of measure from a smaller community.”

Because the capital-improvement sales tax had been tied to a bond issue, restrictions existed on how revenue from it can be used.

For example, for every dollar the city wanted to spend from the capital-improvement tax for street improvements, 57 cents had to be appropriated from general revenue.

Passage of Prop 1 eliminates that matching requirement, a concept that was difficult to convey, according to Nolan.

“… That’s not easy to understand and, in fact, it makes so little sense that it was done that way … You look at it and you go, ‘Why is that?'” he said.

The ordinance approved by the Board of Aldermen in May to place the sales-tax extension on the ballot also established the Capital Improvement Committee, which is comprised of four aldermen who are on the city’s Public Works Committee — Chairman Stephen Webb of Ward 3, Richard Gau of Ward 1, Thomas Musich of Ward 2 and Pat Fribis of Ward 4 — and six residents — Diane Stolzer, Robert Flynn, Bruce Studer, Michael Fitzgerald, Thomas Lynch and Greg Zveitel.

The Capital Improvement Committee, which met seven times over a five-week period, identified nearly 100 potential projects and items totaling roughly $7.8 million in a five-year plan outlining the city’s capital-improvement needs.

The capital-improvement plan, the first in the city’s history, was unanimously approved July 24 by the Board of Aldermen.