The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Officials concerned over sales tax timing

  • Lansing city officials have joined the county commission in expressing concern about the timing of the city of Leavenworth's proposed election for a 1-cent sales tax.
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  • Lansing city officials have joined the county commission in expressing concern about the timing of the city of Leavenworth's proposed election for a 1-cent sales tax.
    In an interview Thursday, Lansing City Administrator Mike Smith and Mayor Billy Blackwell said they are worried about the impact to the city of Lansing should the countywide sales tax fail when it sunsets in 2016.
    Leavenworth County officials have suggested it would be better for the city of Leavenworth to wait until after there's a vote on the countywide issue before pursuing its own 1-cent increase. Leavenworth city commissioners have had a first reading of an ordinance for a special election in February, which has to come back to the governmental body for a final vote. Leavenworth city officials say they want the additional sales tax in order to lower property taxes.
    "I applaud them for doing that," said Smith, "but I just feel the timing is wrong; it should have been done maybe the opposite of this, with the county first, and then the city of Leavenworth."
    The fear is that because the largest share of voters is in Leavenworth city – about 30 – voters in that city might be averse to another tax election, even though Smith said it's a continuation of an existing tax. The countywide sales tax was initiated in order to fund the Justice Center and is divided among the county and the cities based on population and valuation.
    For the city of Lansing, Smith said, the portion has grown to about $750,000, which is used primarily for infrastructure, namely streets.
    "We've done some things, like the park and Desoto Road, but mainly it's issued now for streets since we've taken care of those things we said we would," Smith said. The money for streets is important, he said, because the state, some years ago, "quit sending some of the property tax that was promised. That went away."
    Should the countywide tax issue fail and Lansing lose that $750,000, "It would be a serious blow to us," he said."
    He and Blackwell say such a cut would undoubtedly mean laying off staff and would also adversely affect the quality of city services.
    "I believe our services would be impacted tremendously," Blackwell said. "We have a pretty good reputation for providing services in Lansing and I'd hate to see those drop."
    He noted that the other cities – Tonganoxie and Basehor – must also be worried about the impact. According to a breakdown from the county clerk, the city of Basehor received about $319,000 in 2012 and city of Tonganoxie received about $324,000. The cities of Easton and Linwood also received a portion of the approximately $6.3 million of the countywide sales tax.
    Smith said he'd talked to officials in both Tonganoxie and Basehor, and they, too, are concerned. "The county would lose about $2 million," he said, as would the city of Leavenworth.
    Page 2 of 2 - In fact, he noted, if voters approved the city of Leavenworth's sales tax but nixed the countywide tax, it would be about a wash for the city of Leavenworth, too.
    County officials have suggested putting the countywide issue on the ballot next January, before the sunset, so voters could decide on this issue first. Smith said he has asked the Lansing council and members favor doing that.
    Alternatively, the city of Lansing could propose raising its own sales tax by 1 cent, the maximum possible.
    "I think the council would support that," Blackwell said. "I think they'd have to. We couldn't do business otherwise."
    He said the staff is already bare bones and cutting it more would have serious effects. Smith said they've tightened their belt already, and if they lost the $750,000, "we wouldn't have a belt."
    Smith said he wanted to make it clear that the "city of Lansing is not trying to tell the city of Leavenworth what to do. We've got a good relationship with the city of Leavenworth, and we are not trying to step in and team up against them. We just want them to think about what happens if it goes south, for us, and for Tonganoxie and Basehor," as well as the other entities involved.
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