Before heading to a joint meeting with the Leavenworth City Commission later that evening, members of the County Commission discussed options Tuesday for scheduling an election for the renewal of a sales tax.
County officials are seeking voter approval for renewing a 1-cent countywide sales tax that is set to expire at the end of 2016. Revenue from the tax is divided among the county government and cities in the county.
County officials have expressed concern about how a proposal for a new 1-cent sales tax in the city of Leavenworth will impact the chances for the renewal of the countywide sales tax. County Administrator Pat Hurley has suggested voters in the city could view both as sales tax increases.
Leavenworth city commissioners are proposing the city sales tax for the purpose of reducing property taxes. They have discussed having an election for the new sales tax issue in February.
County commissioners have discussed scheduling an election for the countywide sales tax at the same time or even a week earlier.
They discussed the issue again Tuesday, but no decision was made.
Attending Tuesday's meeting was Lansing City Administrator Mike Smith and Tonganoxie City Administrator Nathan McCommon.
Hurley said he's also spoken with officials from Basehor.
He believes all are concerned about the risk of what could happen if the election for the countywide sales tax followed the city's sales tax election.
"There is, I believe, some risk, and maybe considerable risk, it would not pass," Hurley said.
He said the city of Leavenworth is a third of the county's electorate.
Hurley provided information about how much revenue the countywide sales tax generates for the county and cities. He said the sales tax raises about $6 million in total each year.
He said the county government would stand to lose about $2.5 million per year if the tax is not renewed.
Leavenworth city commissioners are looking at putting their proposal before voters using mail-in ballots.
County Clerk Janet Klasinski said Tuesday that the county can't send out mail-in ballots for elections on the same date. But both governments could have mail-in ballot elections on separate dates.
Commissioner Dennis Bixby asked how county officials can get the word out that the countywide sales tax issue is for a renewal of an existing tax.
Klasinski said this can be included in the wording for the ballot question. She said the commissioners will come up with the wording with the help of the county counselor.
"We need to make it as simple as possible," Commission Chairman Bob Holland said.
County Counselor David Van Parys said commissioners are allowed to put an explanatory statement on the ballot.
Page 2 of 2 - He said the county also is allowed to provide the public information, on a non-advocacy basis, about the affect of the tax.
Smith said the city of Lansing uses its portion of the sales tax revenue for infrastructure.
"Infrastructure is very important to growth," he said.
If the tax is not renewed, he said, the county is going to start taking a step backward.
McCommon said the sales tax is Tonganoxie's only source for capital improvements. He said the city has used the money to leverage debt, and the debt extends beyond 2016.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber said convincing people to vote for the renewal of the tax is not going to be easy, and the city's sales tax proposal is just going to make it harder.
Audience member Louis Klemp, who previously served on the commission, spoke during the meeting. He questioned why the countywide sales tax issue has to come before voters in 2014. He said the issue can wait until 2015.
"Voters don't remember too long," he said, referring to concerns about one issue following the other.
He said it's important for officials to see that the money from the tax is used for the purposes they provided to voters.
"And that makes a difference," he said.
Holland said to some it appears as though the county and other municipalities are tying to tell Leavenworth city commissioners how to run their city. But Holland said the county commissioners were preparing to meet with the city commissioners out of concern.
"Clearly we're not trying to tell the city what to do," Hurley agreed.