By Pat Caldwell
ONTARIO – Ontario city officials have agreed to rewrite what critics said was misleading language on a ballot measure repealing its 1 percent sales tax.
The Ontario City Council approved the 1 percent sales tax in September to take effect in January. The city said it needed the estimated $3.3 million in annual revenue to stop cuts in city services and expand police and other departments.
Petitioners last month obtained enough voter signatures to put before voters next May a ballot measure to repeal the tax. Under Oregon law, city officials had the job of writing the ballot summary and title.
Jackson Fox, an Ontario resident and one of the petitioners, sued the city in Malheur County Circuit Court, contesting the language used by the city in its ballot title, caption and summary. Fox asserted city officials used misleading and biased terms in describing what it is that voters would be deciding. He claimed that the language of the measure doesn’t explain the real purpose of the referendum.
In a response filed last week by attorney Larry Sullivan, the city agreed its language didn’t comply with the law and proposed revisions.
The original ballot title read: “Referendum blocking receipt of 1 percent sales tax revenues.”
The city proposed changing that to: “Authorizes 1% Retail Sales Tax for City of Ontario.”
The original ballot caption submitted by the city read: “Shall Ontario be prevented from receiving general fund revenues from a 1% sale tax on nonexempt retail sales?”
The city now proposes that it read: “Shall the City of Ontario impose, administer, regulate and collect a 1% sale tax on nonexempt retail sales?”
Fox has accepted those changes, but is still negotiating with the city over the text of the measure summary, which explains the issue to voters.
“Ultimately we are happy that the city agreed to most of our proposals. We still think it has a couple of flaws we’d like to have the court review,” said Eric Winters, Fox’s attorney.
No court hearing for that review has been scheduled.