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City provides explanation of sales tax PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 17 November 2017 12:41

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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of the story recapping the sales tax presentation given during the most recent Liberal City Commission meeting Tuesday evening. 


The 1-cent sales tax has made some great strides since first being approved back in 1994, including being used for street improvements and the construction of facilities such as Adventure Bay Water Park. With some recent questions about how the sales tax works, the most recent meeting of the Liberal City Commission featured a presentation about some of the sales tax’s workings. 

“During this most recent election there’s been a lot of questions about how the sales tax works, what it’s for, what’s its intent, that sort of thing,” City Manager Mark Hall began the presentation Tuesday. “So I want to go over those things through the next couple meetings as to how it works and our understanding of it all. This was a great thing intended by a group of individuals who had the forethought of what could we do to make Liberal great in the future. It was a lot of work, a lot of great minds came together. Nobody really understood what the future of the sales tax would be, it was a new adventure for the city.”

And many things have been learned in that time, Hall said. 

“Over the years, the sales tax, with working with Focus on the Future, it was one of those where after many years, in 2010, we went to the public in a general election, which was the first time in a general election to renew the sales tax,”Hall said. “But with that, we had gained the experience of what would be the best way to utilize the funds. We did reduce economic development as far as the increased housing for our future needs. Streets, Drainage and Other Capital Improvements saw an increase. Beautification was left at 5 percent and Crime Prevention was left at 5 percent. And that, frankly, is how it is divided up, that was approved by the voters.”

Hall also showed a few graphs and charts showing how much has been raised through the sales tax since its inception. 

“Since 2002, the sales tax increased for several years and was climbing and then we got hit with the Great Recession,” Hall said. “The uncertainty in 2010 was our lowest year, we were barely above what we conservatively budget. It is one of those that for budget purposes, we used $3,500,000 from the sales tax. And as you can see, in 2010, that lowest dip was just above that mark. The reason we do this is because of the sales taxes, we want to project projects we can do in the future. As we went forward, it was one of those where Focus on the Future had hoped the city would come up with a strategic plan in the future of how to accomplish things, and that was done in 2007. 2007 was the first strategic plan for the sales tax.”

Roughly one-third of the funds collected through the sales tax come from outside the city limits, Hall continued, and in 2016, that number was $386,842,319. Hall also talked about how there have been several 1-cent sales tax projects completed since that plan came into place in 2007, including improvements to parks, improvements to the airport and improvements to downtown Liberal and city streets, among many others. He also talked about a few future projects that will be coming up. 

 “The improvements you’ve seen throughout the city, and I think everyone will remember projects like Light Park,” Hall said. “Staff is truly committed to the sales tax for the benefit of all, and as we go through and discuss with the commission, this commission always has authority on all projects we do. We can’t simply just do projects and notify the commission later. The idea is that in the city, at some point, someone will be born here and then be asked 20 years later what it was like to be born in the city of Liberal and grow up here. What our hope is as they sit there, they don’t reflect on crime, not reflect on the lack of things to do, but sit there and say this is the greatest place to grow up. It also means if we’re talking to them 20 years from now, they stayed in Liberal instead of moving away.”

Hall also talked about several of the 1-cent sales tax programs that have come about for the community, including the Liberal Pride City Wide Program, the Paint the Town Program, and the Graffiti Prevention Program, among many others. 

“These are things we see a need for and we do listen to Focus on the Future,” Hall said. “We do listen to them, and we use a ‘measuring stick’ from Focus on the Future meetings. It is one of those where, as you can see, the bottom line says the concern most often expressed in meetings was for all elected appointed to cooperate and work together to instill more pride in our community and reach our objectives.”

Hall again reiterated how much the 1-cent sales tax has gone through since being adopted back in 1994, saying there were a lot of unknowns at the beginning, including how much would be collected each year, how much requested projects would cost, and what the cultural, social and economic diversity would be in the future. There were also several questions asked even after the tax was passed, including if Focus on the Future committee members should be allowed to serve if they wither directly or indirectly benefited from the sales tax, if requested projects list should be used as a guide since the cultural, social and economic diversity could change in time, and if those requested projects should be based solely on the majority of those who would benefit from it. Hall then talked about some of the changes that came about in the early 2000s. 

“In 2000, that’s when they started taking and making a list,” Hall said. “Before, the list was very small in 1994 and was just kind of getting things started and were just ideas, but this is when more meetings took place and more extensive lists came out. As they went through the meetings, they started saying ‘These are suggestions, these are things people who attended the meeting would like to see’ and we still like to use that as a baseline or guide but in 2000, that was there.”

Hall then talked about things that were unknown after the 1-cent sales tax was passed in 2000, including how to lower the crime rate (Liberal had the second highest crime rate per capita in Kansas in 2006 topped only by Kansas City), the after-effects of Anadarko and other oil and natural gas businesses leaving Liberal (which Hall referred to as a big shock for the community) and the development of housing and economic development incentives, among many others.

“There was no strategic plan developed, it was one of those never accomplished,” Hall said. “But in 2007, and I think then-commissioner Denoyer and commissioner Harrison remember that. But now, we do have a strategic plan to go forward and make this city great, and we’ve coined two phrases – one of them is ‘Open for Business’ and the other is we want Liberal to be the ‘City of Choice’ and make it somewhere people want to come.”

At that point in time, Hall added, KDOT was unwilling to participate in local projects due to revenue shortfalls. 

“We were informed of that and one example of that is Western Avenue,” Hall said. “Western was failing and we had applied for that for 15 years and that ended up costing about $4.2 million to redo Western Avenue. We went to Topeka, we asked if we could be their poster child and show every other city we would be willing to do 50/50 with KDOT. If you remember 15th Street, that was an 80/20 split and we just had to pay the 20 percent. However. KDOT could not afford   it and we ended up paying 100 percent for that street.”

Hall also talked about how it was uncertain in 2010 whether or not the sales tax would be renewed and referenced a Nov. 2010 Leader & Times story that recapped how the tax won an overwhelming 82 percent vote of approval during that election. After being renewed in 2010, it will remain in place until 2021.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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