PDT Staff Writer
In a surprise move at the conference session of Portsmouth City Council Tuesday night, Portsmouth Mayor James Kalb asked Council to prepare legislation to continue the current debt retirement level through 2011 to pay for the paving of city streets, and to treat it as an emergency measure.
Several citizens became upset with the Mayor’s actions and spoke about it afterward.
“You know the tax that is in there now?” citizen Teresa Mollette said. “It will take it to 2011 now. He wants to do it as an emergency, and he (Kalb) has no plan. All he said is that, ‘we will evaluate it if you approve it.’”
The vote to bring the issue up at the next City Council meeting was 4 to 2 with Mike Mearan, David Malone, Jerrold Albrecht and John Haas voting for bringing the measure forward, and Bob Mollette and Rich Noel voting no.
Teresa Mollette said she believed the extension of the property tax would also include an increase.
“The other four said to go ahead and make legislation to potentially go ahead in 2011 and add an extension onto the property taxes. And it’s not for $650,000, it’ll be for $800,000,” Teresa Mollette said.
Kalb said there is a misunderstanding about the tax.
“We would bond for $800,000. We already have $200,000 in the paving program this year. So that would be $1 million in paving,” Kalb told the Portsmouth Daily Times.
Kalb said $120,000 of the money in bond would be paid back with next year’s General Improvement Project money, and the $680,000 would be paid back from the 2011 debt retirement fund.
“It’s the same amount of money that has been on there since 1950,” Kalb said. “It’s part of our ordinary revenue stream. That’s the percentage that has been on the property tax on the evaluations for 50-60 years now. It is not an increase. They called it an increase because it was not collected for us for a couple of years.
“Back when this whole Marting’s thing was going on, I was part of City Council at the time,” Kalb said. “We had decided that we were going to put together money for a new city building. One year we saved up a million dollars. Part of that was from the debt retirement fund.”
Kalb said when the city collected the taxes the next year the city was taken to court, and the city lost and were told they were not permitted to collect taxes on debt retirement without a debt.
“And they were right. The County shouldn’t have collected it for us because we didn’t have debt,” Kalb said. “So the following year and for two or three years it wasn’t on there.”
Then, in 2008, the city placed the tax on again for the purchase of new fire equipment. The tax was to end after 2010, but if Council passes the legislation, it would stay on through 2011.
“It wasn’t an increase, it wasn’t a percentage increase. It wasn’t anything. It was what homeowners had been paying since 1950,” Kalb said.
Portsmouth Mayoral Candidate Jane Murray, the top vote-getter in the May primary, said it is up to the citizens of Portsmouth to get involved.
“This Council, unless they hear from the citizens, are likely to pass this thing,” Murray said. “We’re trying to get people informed. I urge all citizens to call their Council members and come to the meeting to express their views.”
Council is expected to suspend the rules for reading an ordinance on three separate occasions, and treat the item as an emergency issue.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.