When they met Tuesday, Leavenworth city commissioners moved closer to placing a sales tax proposal on a ballot for a special election. They also voted to purchase a former downtown hotel property.
The unanimous vote to purchase the property at 101 S. Third St., which was formerly called Nights Inn, came after commissioners had met behind closed doors in executive session for about 10 minutes. They had met in executive session to discuss land acquisition.
They voted to purchase the property for $592,500 from Citizens Bank in Tennessee.
City Manager Scott Miller has said the city government was negotiating for the purchase of the property for possible development such as a new hotel.
After the vote, Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Preisinger said he was glad to see the city is able to purchase the property. He hopes the city will tear down the old Nights Inn building soon after the deal is finalized. The building has been vacant for some time after the Nights Inn went out of business.
Commissioners also had a first reading for an ordinance that would place a proposed 1-cent sales tax on a special election ballot. Commissioners reached a consensus to move forward with the ordinance. The ordinance will be brought back during a later meeting for final passage.
Commissioners are proposing the sales tax increase for the purpose of reducing the city's property tax rate.
Leavenworth's mill levy for property taxes is 51.841 mills. Miller said passage of the sales tax increase would reduce the mill levy to about 32 or 33 mills.
Last week, commissioners discussed the possibility of putting the issue before voters in the city in an April special election with the sales tax going into effect Oct. 1, 2014, if passed.
But Miller suggested Tuesday that commissioners schedule an election in early February, possibly Feb. 4, with the sales tax being implemented July 1 if passed.
City Clerk Karen Logan said the county clerk recommended the use of a mail-in ballot for the special election instead of asking voters to go to polling places. Logan said an election with a mail-in ballot likely will have a stronger turnout.
"We know in February the weather is not always the best," she said.
Logan said a mail-in ballot special election will cost the city an estimated $27,000. The other type of election would cost only $14,500.
Preisinger said with only a small voter turnout, a small faction could sway the outcome.
"This is a vote we want the people to make," he said.
Preisinger questioned how soon the ballots would have to be mailed to voters ahead of the election deadline. He said he would like the ballots to be mailed out after the first of the year. He suggested this may require moving the date of the election to later in February.
Page 2 of 2 - "These are very, very secure elections, and we'll have a true vote of the people," he said.
Commissioner Larry Dedeke suggested adding the word "sole" to a proposed ballot question so it states that reducing property taxes is the sole purpose of the sales tax.
He also asked if language could be added to the ordinance to allow money from the sales tax to cover the expense of the special election.
City Attorney Tom Dawson said said he will find if the city can use proceeds for this purpose. He also said he doesn't believe wording about such a reimbursement would need to be in the ordinance.
Preisinger noted concerns that have been raised by members of the Leavenworth County Commission and the county administrator regarding how the city's sales tax referendum may impact efforts to renew an existing 1-cent countywide sales tax. The existing sales tax is set to expire at the end of 2016.
"I do understand their concerns," Preisinger said.
Preisinger said he believes that if Leavenworth prospers, other communities in the county also will benefit.
Commissioner Lisa Weakley said county commissioners know that city officials also have a stake in the countywide sales tax being renewed.
Revenue from the existing tax is distributed between the county government and cities in the county.
The city commissioners indicated there was a consensus to move forward with the ordinance for the special election for the city sales tax referendum. They also had a consensus for moving forward with the idea of using mail-in ballots.
Monday, county commissioners discussed the possibility of placing the renewal of the countywide sales tax on the same ballot as the city's sale tax referendum.