HUDSON — Citizens will not be asked to vote this November on a property tax levy to help pay for high-speed internet service, after city council instead decided to revisit the issue in the fall.
"We’re not just punting down the road," said Councilman Hal DeSaussure (At large). "I’m expecting that we will have a framework of additional information that we can then use to make a decision [in November]."
City Council was scheduled to vote Tuesday night on placing a 2.7-mill, 10-year property tax levy request on the Nov. 6 ballot, but now will delay action on the legislation until Nov. 13. The legislation that has been postponed would have asked citizens to vote on a levy to support the issuance of $21 million in bonds to pay for constructing and installing a citywide fiber optic network.
DeSaussure made the motion and said that he would like to form an ad hoc committee to study the plan that was proposed by city staff and also evaluate other options. During the last few weeks, DeSaussure said Council has heard from "a number of residents" who are knowledgeable about broadband service and noted he would like to "tap" into what those citizens can offer.
He plans to present legislation calling for the formation of the committee at the next Council meeting June 5.
Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said he thought there was "wisdom" in tasking a committee with "vetting" the issue.
Once the committee’s review is done, Wooldredge said he hopes Council places the issue on a future ballot.
Councilwoman Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said when the city previously examined a large endeavor, officials have used "consultants or unbiased opinions, professional opinions that we get [from people] who don’t have a stake in the process." She noted she would like to see that happen in conjunction with the additional study of the broadband issue during the next several months.
Councilman Alex Kelemen (Ward 3) said he would prefer to have a "blank slate" rather than see current legislation return to Council in November. Mayor David Basil said the committee could treat the issue as a "blank slate" and then Council could, based on the committee’s feedback, amend the current legislation.
DeSaussure emphasized that, so far, he is not certain whether "we have looked at all the other options, that we have confidence in the $21 million that we’re talking about, that we can make it deliverable [in the issue] that we would take to the people to vote [on]."
Councilman Casey Weinstein (Ward 2) said he thought it was important for Council members to clearly define the type of data the committee analyzes.
Weinstein said his constituents "generally" told him they were ready to make a decision at the ballot and added he felt city staff did a good job providing information. He said he was "a little disappointed" that residents won’t have a chance to vote this fall, but wants residents to make a "fully informed decision."
Before the vote, Kelemen asked to have the postponement last until early next year due to Council typically being busy reviewing the budget from summer through fall. No other members voiced support for the later postponement.
With Council considering the issue at the earliest for the May 2019 ballot, DeSaussure said that revisiting the legislation in mid-November "made the most sense to me." The deadline to place an issue on the May 2019 ballot is sometime in early February, said DeSaussure.
Councilman Dr. J. Daniel Williams (At Large) said he "felt very rushed" on the vote this time and said delaying action until November will give Council more flexibility to make a final decision on whether the levy request would go to the May 2019 ballot.
The proposed levy would have cost the owner of a home appraised at $200,000 another $192 per year, according to Jody Roberts, the city’s communications manager. Residents wishing to sign up for the service would have to pay an additional $30 per month.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.