At 1/4 Cent Tax Town Hall, Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation members hear questions

Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation President Steve Harris (standing near the podium) hosted a Town Hall on the subject of the 1/4 cent sales tax to appear on the ballot of Hempstead County citizens November 8.

UAHT’s Hempstead Hall Monday evening was the setting for the most recent of what will be several Town Halls given by the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation. At these, the HCEDC is presenting its best case for and fielding questions about a ballot measure which would institute a 1/4 cent sales tax.  

The proceeds of the tax would be used to recruit and retain industry to the county took place. After a short promotional video was shown in which the reasons for voting yes are detailed and many of the limitations on what the funds could be spent on are explained, one question that arose was why the Corporation had not asked for a larger tax.

Hempstead County Quorum Court Justice of the Peace and HCEDC member Steve Atchley said a higher amount was considered but the judgment was made that in the months after the expiring of a one penny sales tax to build and maintain the county’s courthouse, another tax request needed to be lower in order to pass. HCEDC member and Hope City Director Steve Montgomery mentioned the difficulty of passing such a tax during inflationary times.

Earlier in the meeting, a questioner asked the Town Hall meeting’s host, HCEDC President Steve Harris how a similar presentation at the noon hour to the Lions Club had gone. “Did they seem pretty receptive to it?”

Harris said the Lion’s Club members had been. “We’ve had several comments that ‘Why did you only go a quarter cent? Why didn’t you ask for a half?’”

Another question asked pertained to an example mentioned in the video of what the HCEDC has done in the past, specifically helping pay salaries when the then-Medical Park Hospital was in danger of shutting down for lack of payroll funding. The question was whether that would be a service available to presently existing small retail businesses in the county from funds raised by the tax.

Harris responded: “The state definition of economic development is what we’re going to go on for this proposal. So it’s limited to certain classifications of business. The theory of economic development is you help the manufacturers, your corporate headquarters and distribution center that’s bringing money from outside into the community. And that recirculates and helps everybody. If you just did retail, you’re just distributing the retail dollars to different things. So it’s not going to be for the small mom and pop retail shop, this particular tax.”

Montgomery said examples of what the tax could finance would be financing the moving of water infrastructure when Tyson is moving a county road to aid in expanding its plant. It could also assist with buying a water storage tank or upgrading wastewater treatment if a company considering locating near a Hempstead County town will need it. “This is for that extra incentive to get them to say yes, that makes it make financial sense,” Lance said.

Hope City Manager and ex-officio member of HCEDC Catherine Cook said of the prospects for locating in the county that she had most recently had contact with, “Pretty much all of them needed water sewer infrastructure that isn’t available now.”

Hope City Director and HCEDC member Mark Ross said a question that came up in the Lions Club meeting was about when the tax expires. “I said, ‘When do you want to stop industry from coming down to Hope?’ That was my response.”

Harris said, “There’s no sunset on this one. Of course, it could be repealed.

Atchley said, “We could suspend it as a board. But it’s not going to be hoarded. It’s going to be spent . . . There’s a growing need. That’s what it’s for and that’s what will be done.”

“Who decides where the money goes?” asked one questioner. “It’s up to the whole [HCEDC] board,” Atchley said.

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