Given the choice between paying for the Ellis County Commission's wish list of projects with a sales tax or a property tax, it appears the former is preferred. By a large margin.
On Tuesday, approximately 18 percent of the county's registered voters showed up for the special election. Amongst those civic-minded individuals, those voting in favor of a 0.5-percent county sales tax outnumbered those against by more than a 4:1 margin. The lopsided result will result in a new EMS/rural fire building, an expanded jail that will more than double the current inmate capacity, and renovations at both the courthouse and the law enforcement center.
The sales tax increase will take effect no sooner than Oct. 1 and for no longer than five years. During that time period, the county expects to collect the $14.3 million needed to pay for all the projects -- plus interest.
We offer our congratulations to the commission, which has been attempting to get something like this passed for decades. Numerous commissioners have come and gone; multiple space needs committees have worked and reworked the plan; on two previous occasions voters rejected the ballot measures presented.
Were the citizens of Ellis County finally wore down by the commission's persistence? We doubt it. Were they suddenly enlightened to the long-identified needs for a bigger jail or giving the overcrowded EMS facility more room. Possibly.
From a political science perspective, however, 82-percent approval on any issue is mind-boggling. Those are the kinds of number that generally are reserved for unopposed candidates.
We believe the X factor in this election was so many individuals believing the county commission would make good on its threat to extract the funds from property taxes if the sales tax proposal was shot down. Given those two options, it made perfect sense to go the sales-tax route. With this county's extremely strong pull factor, almost half of the money raised will be paid by non-Ellis County residents. It was an effective approach for both the sports complex and the aquatic park, so why not utilize it for these county projects as well?
Although the wording on the ballot clearly asked whether residents wanted to pay for the construction and renovation with the sales tax, that really wasn't what drove the lopsided margin of victory. We believe most voters were convinced that if they voted against the measure, the commission was ready to basically veto the results and impose a higher mill levy on everyone's property.
Such an approach was disingenuous and heavy-handed. It was, however, successful. We would hope that in future elections such tactics would be eschewed in favor of straight-forward assessments of public opinion.
We are pleased the proposal passed, but are disappointed in the way the de facto campaign was run.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry