The two candidates qualified for the District 6 seat on the Mobile City Council mainly discussed taxes and public safety as the Aug. 22 municipal elections draw near.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, the long-serving representative of District 6, is facing a challenge from Deryl Pendleton for the seat. Both candidates feel there’s a better way for the city to earn revenue than relying upon an extension of the 20 percent “penny” tax set to expire after fiscal year 2018.
Rich called the tax, which is used to fund the city’s capital improvement program, “regressive” and not business friendly.
“So, right out the chute, a way to replace it is very important,” Rich said of the tax. “Also, it’s not functioning because it will have a finite round to it and because of internet shopping and people are going elsewhere. The 10 percent sales tax, one of the highest in the nation, just is not the tool to sustain what you need to do to operate.”
Rich was chairwoman of an ad hoc committee tasked with evaluating different forms of taxation or revenue generation for the city. Because of the work, Rich said she backs a plan giving the city more revenue through property taxes or fees for service.
“A pay-as-you-go program that’s tied to property tax that people actually know exactly what programs will be done in the four years is a tool and I trust that is something citizens would certainly consider,” she said. “It’s a much more sustainable and business-friendly way to do business … to achieve your desires and needs.”
As for Pendleton, he believes the one-time temporary sales tax increase should end and be replaced by tax revenue generated by new businesses.
“Supposedly the city’s doing better and has more revenue, why are we still increasing taxes?” he asked. “We are we one of the highest-taxed cities and I think we can probably bring that down.”
There has been much discussion over the past year about citizen distrust of the Mobile Police Department following the shooting death of 19-year-old Michael Moore in June 2016. In response, the council created a citizens police advisory council.
In her roles as chairwoman of the council’s public safety committee, Rich has heard firsthand some of the issues involving the MPD. Rich said she believes the council has opened up the lines of communication between the community and the police department.
“I think communication is a huge tool,” she said. “That will get you so much further at the end of the day. It takes time, but that’s essential to good government.”
As for Pendleton, he said his experience as a guard at Mobile Metro Jail opened his eyes to both sides of the argument over distrust of law enforcement.
“One thing I did learn in light of the question, is it’s real easy to say the police officer overreacted, but I understand what they mean when they say ‘hey, I was afraid,’” he said. “On the other side I see, even with my corrections officers, I felt like some of them just came to work to fight. So, it’s an attitude there. It’s like, anything you do I’m going to go off on you so don’t mess with me.”
Pendleton believes police officers and firefighters should be paid more. He also questioned why it took almost four years to put a chief in place at the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department.
Rich said public safety and first responders are the main reasons city government exists. Rich said the MFRD lacked leadership until Chief Mark Sealy was appointed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson and confirmed by the council earlier this summer.
Perry Berens running for District 1
The race for the District 1 seat will include three challengers against incumbent Fred Richardson. The latest challenger to announce his intention to run for the seat in the Aug. 22 municipal elections is Perry Berens.
Berens said he would like to see the district improved, but would also be the council’s environmental activist voice. He said he wants to see more done to regulate GAF Materials Corp., a roofing materials manufacturing plant close to his neighborhood.
He said he has experience in Montana working to improve communities and would bring that knowledge to Mobile.
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