Dewey's Howell reiterates position on GRT

August 16, 2013

Below is the statement I gave at the Dewey Town Council meeting Aug. 9. At the Council meeting, Commissioners Anna Legates, Diane Hanson and myself all said publicly that we are available to meet Aug. 23 or 24; Commissioner Courtney Riordan subsequently indicated he would be available as well. So the question is, with four out of five commissioners available, easily meeting any quorum requirements, and with ample time before the election to print ballots and comply with the 20-day notice requirement of information to voters prior to the Sept. 21 election day, will Mayor Hanson schedule a meeting Aug 23 or 24 to vote on a nonbinding referendum? As the class action attorneys I have spoken with have said, there is no solid legal argument for not putting a simple referendum to the people.

These national experts on class action cases, (the kind of case already filed by Alex Pires against the town challenging our right to levy taxes and I believe designed to intimidate us from levying more taxes), these attorneys said no rational judge sitting in any court would hold it against a municipality if that town put an important vote up for a non-binding referendum vote by its citizens. So will Mayor Hanson schedule a meeting to vote on putting this non-binding referendum on the ballot so the citizens can have a voice?

Statement at the Aug. 9 town council meeting:

“I have a few comments tonight. First of all, as most of you know, I was very disappointed in my colleagues' vote against a non-binding referendum of the people a couple of weeks ago. The gross receipts tax was the product of two years of work by the council-appointed budget and finance committee, the last year headed by Commissioner Courtney Riordan, an attorney who worked hand in hand with our town solicitor firm, and attorney Noel Primos of that firm. Mr. Primos and Commissioner Riordan thoroughly researched the GRT ordinance, the referendum of the voters, and took into consideration the lawsuit already filed by Alex Pires. They concluded that the town has the authority to tax, and that the charter is very strong in giving powers of taxation, totally unlike the city of Newark which was referenced in the debate. And they concluded that while we are not required by law to put the issue to referendum, the council certainly could do so if it chose to.

"When the item was put on the public agenda, it said, 'Discuss and possibly vote on recommendations from the budget and finance committee regarding a gross receipts tax.' There were two recommendations from the committee, one to enact an ordinance and two to put the issue to referendum. Commissioner Riordan actually brought forth a non-binding referendum for a vote on July 19, and it is that non-binding referendum by the people that was denied by three of my colleagues on that day.

"Now people of good minds can disagree, so my colleagues are certainly entitled to their opinion, but it has come to my attention that perhaps there was some confusion on the part of my colleagues as to what they were voting on. So I ask today that the GRT referendum vote alone be held again, in the next couple of weeks, and we have an up or down vote on whether we want to put this issue to the people to allow them a voice. The filing deadline for the election is still two weeks away, there is plenty of time to put one sheet of paper for the non-binding referendum in the absentee ballots, and plenty of time to put it on the ballot for the machines Sept. 21. I ask that each of my colleagues comment on this proposal and fulfill the trust of the people of Dewey Beach by putting this issue to referendum. We were elected in part to find fairness in the town’s revenue structure between the businesses and the property owners. Until we do, I propose that the accommodations taxes paid by the property owners and their guests be escrowed by the town and not spent, in the name of fairness. Since according to the town manager we don’t need the money, I think it is the right thing to do.”

Joy Howell
Dewey Beach

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