Residents vote to take power away from City Council

The young city of Damascus experienced some growing pains Tuesday, March 11, when the same residents who voted for its incorporation in 2004 now have seriously hindered its ability to operate, officials say.

With 2,760 of Damascus' 6,217 residents voting, three ballot measures involving property rights, taxes and condemned properties passed.

Measure 3-282 could have the biggest impact on the city's fiscal operations: Voters will now have to approve any city-assessed taxes, charges or fees.

'It's growing pains and issues and the voters spoke,' said Dan O'Dell, city finance director.

Before, if the city wanted to assess a fee - such as a dog license charge - it brought it to the City Council for a vote; now residents have to approve it. Elections cost the city about $9,000, said O'Dell. That's not a small amount for a city with an annual budget of $6 million.

And the vote itself could be a non-starter: If it's a special election, tax or fee votes have to pass by a double-majority - meaning half of registered voters have to vote and 51 percent of those have to OK the measure.

The measure, officials say, will ultimately be very time-consuming - and that could impact future development in the city.

'If I was a developer coming in a looking at different areas, time is money,' said David Jothen, city councilor. 'And if I had to wait for a city to put a money measure on the ballot, that may make it unreasonable for me to wait. And I may take my economic development somewhere else.'

Measure 3-281 also passed, requiring the city to compensate property-owners if land regulations hurt the value of their property, retroactive to 2006. And Measure 3-283 requires that the city give the owner of a condemned property the first right to repurchase it if the city tries to sell it.

'I think we are taxed awful high anyway - way too high,' said resident Butch Deters, 64, at the Bi-Mart parking lot, just a few stores down from City Hall. He and Laura Deters, 62, have lived in Damascus for 30 years.

'It might make them think twice before spending your money,' Laura Deters said. 'In a way, it gives more power to the people who actually live here.'

'We are paying taxes but we live on a gravel road - they're not going to take care of that,' Butch Deters said. 'We don't get no benefits from any of it except more taxes.'

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