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Vine Grove mayor, council member disagree on tax idea

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By Joshua Coffman

 

By JOSHUA COFFMAN jcoffman@thenewsenterprise.com VINE GROVE — The mayor and a council member debated during a meeting Monday night on how to best address rebuilding ball fields damaged in a flood and bring more revenue to the city. Councilman Eric Vowels voiced support for an occupational tax, with a portion going toward baseball and softball fields. “Make it a facility people would be proud of,” he said. “It just seems like, ‘What now? What now?’ We keep waiting … and the ball season’s almost over.” Mayor Donovan Smith said that options could address the city’s park needs, such as state or federal grants. Smith said he has talked to federal representatives about getting an earmark for Vine Grove. “We’ve never tried for one,” he said. The discussion came a week after Wayne Vowels, the councilman’s father, former mayor and a supporter of Smith in previous elections, stepped down as administrative assistant. The tension between the mayor and councilman on the tax issue spilled over later into discussion on an unrelated property issue, prompting city attorney Michael Pike to advise the council not to publicly discuss it further. The council later went into a previously unscheduled executive session, presumably to discuss the land. Debate between the two mainly centered on how to pay for new ball fields and where to place them, with Vowels favoring Optimist Park while Smith expressed preference to placing them near J.T. Alton Middle School. Smith argued that erecting fields at Optimist Park would cut into parking for the amphitheater. Both agreed dates between the two could be worked out to avoid conflicts. Smith said it would be up to the council to have the final say. An occupational tax would draw most of its revenue from teachers who work in the city. Vowels said a tax also would benefit needs within Vine Grove’s police and fire departments as he noted that many who would pay the tax do not live in the city. “We’re asking them to pay for the services they receive here every day,” he said. “This isn’t just about the ballpark.” Smith responded, “It’s like holding a gun to their heads to teach our children.” Smith said last year that the city is limited by state law in how it can get revenue from residential fees. Both Elizabethtown and Radcliff governments rely heavily on business licenses and occupational fees to pay public bills. But, as a bedroom community, Vine Grove has a much smaller work force from which to draw.    Councilman Mark Allen also spoke against the tax. “I’d love to have a nice facility,” Allen said. “But everybody’s strapped. … They’re having a hard time, believe me. I see it every day. Right now is just not a good time to raise taxes on anybody.” Smith said the city budget would have a surplus in the year just wrapping up, and he expected for the same to happen in next year’s budget, which the council soon will consider. In addition to money raised at an event in May and volunteer work, the city could build ball fields without raising taxes, he said. “I don’t think the public has seen any reduction in services since the budget has gotten tighter,” Smith said. “Government can always use more money. … It’s where you want to draw the balance.” Smith, who as mayor does not vote on city legislation unless a tiebreaker is needed, urged council members to make a motion on the tax and make a decision. “Vote and move on, whichever way it goes,” he said. Council members did not do so. The council will begin considering its budget for the upcoming fiscal year at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Joshua Coffman can be reached at (270) 505-1740.