This is the fourth in a series on the LOST election.
By Julie Ann Madden
Voters in Akron, Le Mars and Remsen and the unincorporated rural areas will go to the polls on Aug. 6 to decide whether to renew a LOST levy.
The current LOST levy ends Dec. 31, 2016, and if passed, the new LOST levy would begin Jan. 1, 2017 and go until Dec. 31, 2031.
A 1 percent Local Option Sales and Service Tax (LOST) amounts to one penny per dollar on each purchase a person makes in Plymouth County.
It may be just one cent at a time but those pennies per dollar add up for city and county coffers.
Each of the towns above and the unincorporated rural areas have had a LOST levy since 2001.
In Akron, the “penny tax” as some call it has generated more than $100,000 annually. Just over $1.1 million dollars were added to the city’s revenue stream.
The unincorporated rural area’s penny tax brought in nearly $11 million in the same time period.
Akron LOST hopes
Topping both the City of Akron and rural Plymouth County’s lists for these LOST dollars are infrastructure.
Akron officials hope to have these funds to complete four large projects:
• Reed Street Improvement Project.
According to Akron Public Works Director Gary Horton, this project includes installation of a new water main and storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems’ infrastructure on Reed Street between Fourth and Eighth Streets. It will encompass both Reed Street’s sides and therefore, include some street paving, too.
• Swimming Pool Project.
Since 2007, the Akron Parks & Recreation Board and city officials have been considering replacing the swimming pool with a new aquatic center.
The swimming pool was built in the 1950s, and it’s showing its age. For instance, its side walls are made of metal which were wearing thin in lots of places, Horton had told The Akron Hometowner back in 2007. The pump house containing the filtering system and the filtering system itself were also in tough shape.
At that time, city officials had an engineer draw up plans for a “zero depth pool,” which was the most popular and efficient type of aquatic center at the time. However, that’s as far as the project went due to lack of funding.
The situation at the swimming pool has not improved in the last six years but costs to build an aquatic center continue to rise as the economy fluctuates.
• An Announcers’ booth, Bathrooms and Concession stand facility, also known as an ABC building.
In 2006, an ABC building was constructed on the city’s Bob Tucker Ball Field and in 2007, one was built at Sargent Field.
Lefty Swift Ball Field still doesn’t have an ABC building.
Plans are in the process of being drawn up for the Lefty Swift ABC building. It will be similar to the other two, said Horton.
• Resurfacing Norka Drive in the Akron Industrial Park.
These are just a few projects city officials would like to accomplish in the next 15 years, which is the length of the proposed LOST levy.
“We also want to be able to continue to help organizations which provide amenities not only to our residents but attract people to town such as the Akron Opera House, Akron Historical Society (museum), Akron Children’s Center, and Akron Golf Course,” said Horton, explaining these organizations can apply for municipal LOST grants annually.
Furthermore, some LOST funds will be used for the installation of utilities to the New Care Center Project.
“We don’t want to fall behind what other cities are doing,” said Horton.
Plymouth County hopes
Plymouth County Secondary Road Department Engineer Tom Rohe has a whole list of projects but it’s just a matter of when you have enough money to do them,” said Plymouth County Supervisors Chairman Jim Henrich. “There are a lot of roads and bridges that need repaired. Many of them were built in the 1950s.”
The problem has been a shortage of funds in this department’s budget, he explained. “Because of that shortfall, we are way behind in repairing roads and bridges so we’re going to take that money and use that for helping with the shortfall.”
The bridges and county roads are prioritized by their conditions — the worst ones are repaired first when money is available.
One of the main goals of the first county LOST levy was to pay for the new county jail, which will be paid off in December 2016 when this levy ends.
“We did the rest of the LOST projects because we had LOST money left over,” said Henrich. Not only were other county projects completed but a grant program was started.
Several local entities have benefited from these grants in western Plymouth County. For instance, the Children’s Memorial Park in Akron was started with a county LOST grant.
Nearly every year fire departments and ambulance services throughout the county have received LOST dollars to purchase equipment they otherwise wouldn’t have had the money for, said Henrich. Schools in the county have also benefited from county LOST funds.
“The way financing is right now, there is a real shortfall as far as infrastructure goes,” said Henrich, “and I can’t see where that will get much better in the near future.”
Some counties are actually borrowing money and bonding to do these things,” he said, “and we don’t want to do anything like that because you’ll in-debt the people.”
“How are you going to pay that back?” said Henrich. “We’re hoping to use this LOST money for necessary repairs that are not funded by the original sources.”
“(LOST) is not just a tax on the people of our county,” said Henrich. “Anybody who comes to our county and buys something helps with this, too.”
“There have been a lot of needed repairs that have been put off,” he said, “but because of this money, we were able to do these repairs at the courthouse and the county’s maintenance buildings.”
“Without this money, we wouldn’t have been able to,” said Henrich, “and if you leave something go, it just costs more in the end.”
“A LOST levy is a tremendous benefit to the county, to the towns and unincorporated areas, too,” he said. “Nobody wants to pay a tax but many projects have been done that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.”
“Without LOST, how would we have ever paid for all this?” said Henrich. “The only other choice is to raise taxes and you’re limited in what you can do there and you don’t want to do that.”
“Or you can cut services,” he said.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 6 throughout Plymouth County, including at the Akron Public Library and Westfield Community Center.