Sales tax issues were the topic of discussion when members of the Leavenworth City Commission and County Commission held a joint meeting Tuesday.
No action was taken during the meeting as the two governmental bodies met for more than hour.
The City Commission is considering asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase in the city for the purpose of reducing property taxes. They've already had a first reading of an ordinance for a special election in February, but the matter needs to come back for a vote.
County Administrator Pat Hurley said during Tuesday's joint meeting that county officials are concerned about how the city's sales tax referendum could impact efforts to renew a countywide 1-cent sales tax that is set to expire at the end of 2016. The revenue from the existing tax is split between the county government and cities in the county.
Hurley said there is a risk voters might not approve the renewal of the countywide tax if the ballot measure follows the city's special election. He said the proposal for the renewal of the countywide sales tax could appear to be another sales tax increase to voters in the city. And voters in the city of Leavenworth make up a third of the county's electorate.
He said the two sales tax questions could be scheduled to go before voters at the same time.
"That would be confusing to voters," Hurley said. "We recognize that."
Having elections for the two issues on the same date also could affect the City Commission's desire to use mail-in ballots for the city sales tax proposal.
Hurley said the ideal approach would be for the countywide sales tax issue to be put before voters first.
"We think that would be the strongest chance of passing it," he said.
He presented city commissioners with information about how much money the countywide sales tax raises for the county and city governments and how many mills it would take to generate these amounts through property taxes.
"We all receive so much revenue from it and are so dependent on it," he said of the existing sales tax.
Ahead of the joint meeting, county commissioners discussed scheduling the election for the countywide sales tax as early as late January, which would be before the city's election. But no decision has been made as to when the countywide sales tax will be put on the ballot.
City Commissioner Lisa Weakley said Tuesday that it's the intention of city commissioners to also support the renewal of the countywide sales tax.
"Our intent is to support both of them," she said.
Leavenworth Mayor Laura Janas Gasbarre said all of the city commissioners support the renewal of the countywide sales tax. She said it funds the city's capital improvement program.
Page 2 of 2 - City Commissioner Larry Dedeke said county officials are asking voters to approve something that doesn't expire until the end of 2016.
He asked why the election for the countywide sales tax issue can't happen in early 2015.
He said there's always a possibility something bad could happen.
"But we've got to count on our constituents," he said.
Leavenworth Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Preisinger said he felt there was almost "fear mongering" going on. He said the county has 39 months until the countywide sales tax expires.
Hurley later said county officials can't wait until 2016 to have the election for the renewal of the existing sales tax. He said it needs to be earlier to allow time for another election if the issue is defeated on the initial try.
Preisinger said the city's property tax rate is "strangling us." He said the city's sales tax proposal, if passed, would reduce the property tax rate from 52 mills to about 33 mills.
City Manager Scott Miller said there are no major subdivisions being planned in the city of Leavenworth.
"No one is coming in because the tax rate is too high," he said, referring the to property tax rate.
Preisinger also argued that the formula for dividing the revenue from the existing countywide sales tax is flawed. He said about 55 percent of the money from the sales tax is collected in Leavenworth, but the city only receives about 37 percent of the revenue.
Weakley said she believes people, if given the proper information, will see the merit of both of the sales taxes.
Gasbarre said officials must inform voters about the sales tax issues.
"We believe we have a smart, a very smart, community," she said.
City Commissioner Davis Moulden raised the issue of possibly unifying governments in the county.
"It may be time to start thinking about some unification in this county," he said.
At one point, County Commissioner Dennis Bixby said he believes the county will have its election at the same time as the city election.
"That has not been decided," County Commissioner Clyde Graeber said.
Audience member Louis Klemp addressed the commissions during the meeting.
"You've got four months to make this decision," he said.
He said either the city will delay its election or the county will want until until 2015. He said waiting to have the election for the countywide sales tax until 2015 is the best option.
He said renewal of the tax all boils down to what the cities present to the public.