The City of Great Bend should seek .4% in additional sales taxes to cover quality of life improvements and service bonds funding a new Police Station at 12th and Baker and new City Hall to be incorporated into the Events Center.
That was the consensus of the City Council when it met for a work session Monday night following its regular agenda meeting. They also gave the nod to for city officials to seek bids, noting this doesn’t obligate the city to spend anything yet.
The council will formally act on the sales tax initiative at its second meeting in August. This way it can be delivered to the Barton County Clerk’s Office in time for the measure to appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot for a public vote.
“If approved, the two new sales taxes would go into effect April 1, 2022,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said. The tax is recommended to be in place for at least 20 years.
Francis said Kansas law allows for two types of sales taxes - general which do not require a “sunset” provision and special which do. This would be a general tax, but the council may opt to require a sunset, or ending, date anyway.
The change would bring Great Bend’s total sales tax burden to 8.65%, he said. That still puts the city on the lower end compared to similarly sized communities in Kansas whose rates range from 7.5 in Eldorado to 9.25% in Liberal.
“I think we ought to go for it and see what happens,” said Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder. He did like the idea of a sunset clause because that may make it more palatable for the voters.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Lindsey Krom-Craven agreed. It needs to be sold to the public as an option done in lieu of raising property taxes, she said.
Others on the council saw a sales tax as a more equitable way of raising funds since it impacts everyone who spends money in the community.
Community Coordinator Christina Hayes said she isn’t waiting until the official vote. She has already started to market the initiative.
Breaking it down
The proposal calls for .25% for quality of life. Francis said, based on the last four years of tax collections, this would net about $944,380 annually.
“This is pretty broad and encompassing,” he said, noting the need for other improvements came up when the city talked about the artificial turf at the Sports Complex. This could be used for such things as playground equipment, sports fields, hike and bike trails, Brit Spaugh Zoo, handicapped-accessible sidewalks and equipment maintenance.
He would like to see a committee formed including the Great Bend Recreation Commission and others to brainstorm and draft a capital improvement plan. “I want this to be a collaborative effort.”
But, “$900,000 seems like a lot of money. But, doesn’t go as far as you think it would,” Francis said.
That is why projects have to be considered carefully.
The .15% tax would go for serving bond payments. This would generate about $566,628 each year and give the city a bond capacity of about $7.7 million.
That would be sufficient, Francis said.
The estimated cost of the Police Station is $5.5 million, based on comparable recent construction. This 25,000-square-foot facility would also incorporate the Municipal Court facility and adequate parking.
As for City Hall, that cost is estimated at $2.4 million. This involves the remodeling the remaining 21,000 square feet of the office complex on the back side of the city-owned Events Center.
The other 7,000 square feet have already been redone. This includes the Great Bend Economic Development Inc. office, two large breakout rooms, and extra space for the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is also where the City Council has been meeting.
In all, this pushes $8 million, above the bondable amount. But, Francis said the city has $1.5 million set aside, meaning the city would only have to finance $6.4 million on a 20-year bond at about 2.5% interest.
Other possible uses for the bond tax could include building maintenance or other new city facilities. It could also be used for property tax relief by shifting spending to sales taxes rather than property taxes.
But, what if?
“Should it not pass, we will need a plan B,” Francis said. If it fails, he suggested stripping away the quality of life tax and City Hall, and focusing on the Police Station.
Based on a $4 million pricetag, this would take an increase of about three mills in property taxes. One mill is one dollar per $1,000 dollars of assessed value.
Another option would be to hold a special sales tax election for .1 percent to cover the cost of the building.
The station and city offices combined would require about 4.5 mills based on a $6.4 million project.
Then, there is always the status quo, which is not doing anything. But, “I don’t think that is really an option,” Francis said.
The council was in agreement.