Two weeks ago in this column, we shared the outline of our One for One program, the chamber’s position regarding the city’s 2017-18 proposed budget that included the largest tax increase in Owensboro history. Since that time, we have been overwhelmed with the response we received from business owners, employees and citizens throughout the community.
Our chamber represents close to 1000 members which employee around 15,000 people. Our mission of promoting our region’s economic vitality puts a responsibility on our shoulders to speak up when we see policies that will harm our economy and the people of our region.
Our concerns are the following:
The proposed city budget that was tabled on April 24 raised taxes to fund a projected four-year budget deficit. We continue to recommend adopting a budget with revenue funding annual projections. We believe the deficit will be much lower than projected. And that the proposed tax increase would create a windfall.
Second, we are concerned that there were no real internal cuts in this year’s budget proposal.
Third, raising taxes inside the city limits drives growth away from our core, a major contradiction to our community’s goals of implementing a placemaking strategy to recruit and retain talent. In fact, we have heard from members who plan on relocating outside the city limits if the staff’s proposed increase occurs.
We want to make clear that none of our proposed cuts were to be incurred by public safety employees. We support the 5 percent increase in pay for public safety and adding personnel to fill existing vacancies.
We know our public safety personnel are making much less than our peer communities. And from a market perspective, we understand that pay disparity creates risk to lose personnel and to recruit the cream of the crop.
The number one quality of life factor in Owensboro is the opportunity to live and work in a safe community. We are humbled by the sacrifices the first responders of Greater Owensboro make to protect us and keep us safe.
We appreciate Mayor Watson, Commissioner Conder and Commissioner Velotta’s votes to table the budget with the massive tax increase. We look forward to the work session on Tuesday to see what changes have been made.
In closing, we appreciate the willingness of our Mayor and city elected officials to serve. We appreciate the Mayor and those members of the commission who we know are trying to get the answers and make good, sound decisions. We know that these are tough decisions.
Please make plans to join us at the first reading of the city budget on May 15. The second reading when the vote will occur has now been scheduled for just two days later on May 17.
By Mark Martin Chamber Advocacy Chair 2015 Chamber Board Chair