Council, University differ on city sticker proposal

Melissa Ruhlman/The News
Austin Ramsey
News Editor

Melissa Ruhlman/The News

Claire Voelker’s Wednesday is over. As she walks across campus toward a parking lot, the sky begins to orange. She plans her evening – home to rest, relax and study.

Her parked car fosters little significance to her at the end of her day. 
But soon, Voelker, senior from O’Fallon, Ill., may be one of many students, occupied with classes and studying, who may be required to buy a Murray city sticker at perhaps as much as $50.
Voelker doesn’t have a job, and that’s $50 she just doesn’t have.
Like many students, Voelker does not work locally, exempting her from the city sticker – something some City Council members are looking to change.
The issue stems from a University proposal from more than a year ago. Mark Welch, University director of community relations, submitted a proposal to the City Council with the idea of allowing students currently obligated to purchase the small tag placed in the corner of car windshields to pay a reduced rate for them.
An existing ordinance in Murray’s Code of Ordinances under the licensing chapter excludes University students who do not work anywhere on or off campus from buying the $50-a-year tag that replaces city payroll taxes.
A portion of the ordinance reads, “…‘residing or located in the city’ shall not be interpreted to include students whose permanent homes are outside the city and who are temporarily residing within the city for the purpose of attending college or school…”
Welch, who said he always agreed with the ordinance as it was written in 1961, hoped to create a partnership between Murray and Murray State that would allow city stickers to be sold on campus at the reduced rate ($20 rather than $50). He said the University would educate students who worked and drove of their legal obligation to purchase the stickers.
“The end result being that the city might actually end up raising more money by lowering the price and getting more students to comply,” he said. 
But City Attorney Warren Hopkins expressed concern over the constitutional legality of Welch’s proposal for reduced rates. Hopkins said such an addition to the ordinance would segregate students as a separate class of residents. 
Welch said Mayor Bill Wells met with several University administrators to address the issue and explore the legal roadblocks, but the proposal soon became dormant.
What happened next, Welch said, was a bit surprising.
At the biweekly City Council meeting on Jan. 11, Wells proposed to the Council Finance Committee that the portion exempting unemployed students from having to buy the stickers be removed, essentially making all students at Murray State who have vehicles on campus buy a sticker.
Welch said he did not know – if both the committee and Council adopted the proposal – whether City Hall would offer the stickers at a prorated cost of $37.50, like in past years.
“There’s some debate about whether or not they’ll even allow the prorated fee. They may require a student to purchase at the full $50,” he said.
Some administrators feel as though the city acted too fast in making that proposal and did not give the University ample time to prepare.
Jay Morgan, associate provost, serves on the City Council and sits on the Council’s Finance Committee. Welch said Morgan was the only person to tell any administrators that the city was considering making that move.
Welch said he and Alex Green, student representative for the City Council, and SGA President Jeremiah Johnson attended the Jan. 11 meeting, speaking in opposition to the proposal. As a result, the Council tabled the motion until the Jan. 26 meeting.
As word spreads about the proposal, some students have become outraged at the idea of all students paying the sticker fee. Some students have discussed a petition. 
Johnson said the issue has raised several questions for SGA, which addressed the issue at its Wednesday night meeting. Johnson said he planned a meeting with Wells Thursday where he intended to discuss the topic.
Wells said he did not believe the issue was one that could harm University-city relations, but thought students using city resources and living within its boundaries should give back. He said he was troubled by the fact that the city could not give discounted rates to students because they only use those resources and occupy that land for a fraction of the year.
“I would hope that we could work something out,” he said. “We were kind of surprised when our legal counsel said we can’t create a separate group.”
Wells said the issue has raised more questions than answers, all of which rally around the question he said he’s been thinking about quite a lot lately.
Asked Wells: “Do you think that if you live in some place even though you’re not a resident you’ve got no fiscal responsibility toward the place that you’re living?” 
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