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Local group opposes amendment to Dickinson's half-percent sales tax

DICKINSON - A group of city residents called the Dickinson Watchdogs has organized to fight the proposed amendment to the city's half-percent sales tax.

DICKINSON - A group of city residents called the Dickinson Watchdogs has organized to fight the proposed amendment to the city's half-percent sales tax.

About 50 people met Monday to discuss the amendment that will appear on the June 10 ballot. The Watchdogs have printed fliers and plan to run a pull-out ad in The Dickinson Press on Thursday, said Tim Beaudoin, one of the group's organizers.

The amendment, if approved, would allow the city to spend funds from the existing half-percent sales tax on community projects such as the proposed Badlands Activities Center, which would replace Whitney Stadium on the campus of Dickinson State University. Presently, the proceeds from the tax can only be used for the construction, repairs and operation of the West River Community Center; street, water and sewer expenses; and property tax relief.

Beaudoin, who served as a city commissioner from 1997 to 2000, said the city should not be given the power to spend the one-half percent sales tax money on "fun-and-game" projects. He said there should be citywide votes on each large-scale project.

"What's wrong with letting people vote on non-essentials?" Beaudoin asked.

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He acknowledged that such a system of voting would take time, but said the sometimes sluggish pace of government helps to produce fair results.

"Government moves slowly, and it should move slowly for proper and sound decisions," he said.

Jack Jackson, another organizer of the group, said the amendment would give city commissioners "a carte blanche check to do whatever they want."

"The public needs to decide these things," Jackson said. "What happens to the natural check and balance in government that you have with people being able to say, 'No'?"

Beaudoin, who works as an insurance salesman, said he thinks the city should finish paying for the community center before it pursues other projects.

"It's too premature to start redirecting and directing this tax to other projects," he said. "Because guess what, we've still got four years of payments on it."

Beaudoin added that the city should save some of the tax money in case the center needs extensive repairs in the future. He also said adding on to the center does not make sense to him.

"At what point are you going to realize that you're going to end up with a monstrosity for operations and maintenance?" he asked.

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Jackson, a local writer, said talk of using the tax money to build a water park doesn't sit well with him. He said an outdoor water park could only be used for part of the year.

"What am I going to do with a waterslide? I'd much rather see it go to the hospital," said the 65-year-old Jackson.

Instead of community projects, Beaudoin said, the half-percent sales tax revenue the city currently has set aside should be spent on property tax reduction.

"We've got $1.7 million dollars in the bank. Let's get some relief off of it," he said.

Beaudoin said residents have seen little property tax relief from the one-percent sales tax and the half-percent sales tax, both of which can be used for that purpose.

Beaudoin said he'd also prefer the city spend the half-percent sales tax money on building and improving streets, widening the railroad underpass on South Main or building a bridge over the tracks that cross State Avenue.

Until the formation of the Watchdogs, the sales tax amendment had seen a minimal amount of public opposition. In the other corner, Destiny Dickinson has been campaigning in favor of the amendment - running a newspaper ad, passing out pamphlets and giving presentations at local clubs, organizations and businesses.

Beaudoin said the Watchdogs are "the voice of the people." He said some residents have told him they have worries about coming out against the amendment.

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"I've had many comments say this: 'I work for so-and-so employer. I'm afraid of my job if I speak up,'" he said. "I told a few individuals, I said, 'Hey, no one will ever know...how you vote.'"

Sharon Wald, a member of the group, said she opposes the amendment on principle.

"You don't give government a blank check," she said. "If you give government enough money, they're going to find a way to spend it."

Wald, a 68-year-old grandmother of 13, said it's flawed to think that community projects will help Dickinson compete with other cities in attracting residents.

"You know what that sounds like don't you? Keeping up with the Joneses...to the point that you break yourself," she said.

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