City to host public meetings on sales tax questions
The City of Great Bend will host two town hall meetings on the three sales tax initiatives the city has on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. They will be from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday and from 7:30-8:30 a.m. Wednesday, both at City Hall, 1209 Williams.
“We encourage people to come out and bring their questions,” City Administrator Kendal Francis said.
These proposed taxes include:
• .10%- debt service construction of a new police station with a 20-year sunset. The estimated revenue comes to $377,752 per year.
The estimated $5.8 million, 25,000-square-foot facility at 12th and Baker on what is now a city parking lot and will also house the Municipal Court.
• .15% - quality of life improvements with no sunset. The estimated revenue comes to $566,628 per year.
This covers improvements to parks and other recreational facilities, as well as maintenance.
• .20% - pension for public safety personnel (police and fire) with no sunset. The estimated revenue comes to $755,504 per year.
In addition, “we’re working steadily to get some information out to the public,” he said. This will also involve social and other media campaigns.
Also, the GBPD and the Fire Department will host a Great Bend Chamber of Commerce coffee on Thursday, Oct. 28, to cover the two safety-related questions. That is set for 9 a.m. at the Police Department, 1217 Williams.
Anyone wanting to tour the current Police Station can call Chief Steve Haulmark at 620-793-4120.
There was a reason Great Bend City Administrator Kendal Francis chose to hold his latest Kendal’s Koffee Friday morning in the garage of the Police Station. The aging Williams Street facility stands at the epicenter of the city’s trio of sales tax initiatives to appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
“We encourage you to get out and vote,” he said. “We would appreciate your support for our sales tax questions,” which cover a new Police Station, quality of live improvements and a pension plan for first responders.
Flanked by the city’s Spanish translator Venessa Favela, he addressed those gathered. The event was also being shown on the city’s Facebook page live.
“This is the most equitable way of taxing,” Francis said of the sales taxes. “Everyone shares equally in the tax burden, even non-residents.”
There has been a lot of social media discussion confusing this with a property tax, he said.
“We understand people’s issues with raising taxes,” he said. “But, this does not affect property taxes, only things purchased in Great Bend.”
Great Bend’s current tax rate is 8.25%. Should all three new taxes pass, the rate would be 8.7%, and Francis said that is in the middle of the pack compared to area cities of similar size.
The Police Station
First, he brought up the .1% sales tax for 20 years to fund a new Police Station, proposed to be located at 12th and Baker.
“This has many deficiencies,” he said of the current headquarters. It was built in 1938 and originally housed the Police and Fire departments.
Space is the biggest issue, he said. The station has 8,000 square feet when at least 20,000 square feet is needed for a department the size of Great Bend’s.
In addition, it is not handicapped accessible, lacks adequate evidence storage, has outdated plumbing and electrical systems and is missing security features. There are also not enough rooms for meetings and interviews.
The Municipal Court is housed in the building as well and faces similar challenges, he said. The new building would include room for a new court location.
“The city has been planning for several years to build a new facility,” Francis said. They have set money aside and have saved $1.5 million.
But, they can’t set funds aside fast enough for what is estimated to be a $6 million endeavor, he said. So, they must seek bonds, or borrow about $5 million, to pay for it.
To put that in prospective, he said this sales tax would equal 10 cents on every $100 spent by a consumer. It would generate around $378,000 each year.
Why seek this now? Francis said they want to take advantage of historically low interest rates and jump in before anticipated COVID-related construction cost increases hit.
“We are not looking to construct the Taj Mahal of police stations,” Francis said. “We are being fiscally conservative,” telling the architects they want a functional and practical facility so officers can do their jobs better.
They hope to have an artist’s rendition soon.
While they are looking at all funding options, he said they can’t tap COVID stimulus money for the building. It might be possible to use it for things like technology for the inside.
In answer to an audience question, Francis said they have hired an architect with police stations on their resume. They also plan to visit stations in other communities.
Quality of life
The quality of life sales tax is a .15% initiative, Francis said. It translates into 15 cents for every $100 spent, and would bring in about $565,000 annually.
“It is intentionally broad,” he said. It encompasses such things as parks and recreation and events, and “anything that improves the quality of living here in Great Bend.”
The city will form a citizens’ committee to make recommendations to the City Council, he said.
“They City Council wants to see continuous improvements,” he said. This tax has no sunset.
Noting the high cost of large projects, like the estimated $200,000 for new playground equipment at Heizer Park, Francis said it may take a few years to build up funding for anything substantial.
“We believe it is needed,” he said, adding city officials think citizens deserve improved amenities.
First responder pensions
“Currently, the city provides a 401K retirement plan for all employees,” including policemen and firefighters, Francis said. However, “that was not designed for the unique retirement needs of first responders.”
So, to improve this, the city seeks a .20% sales tax. This comes to 20 cents on every $100 spent, raising an estimated $755,000 each year with no sunset.
A final determination on what this new plan will be has not been made, he said. “Our goal is to provide a system where they can retire at an appropriate age and be covered for the rest of their lives.”
Other topics discussed during Kendal’s Koffee:
The sales tax questions dominated Francis’ Friday morning remarks, but there were a host of other matters addressed. These included:
• “We are one month away from the general election,” he said. The ballot will include City Council seats and the mayoral post.
Alan Moeder is seeking reelection in Ward 1 and Cory Urban is seeking another term in Ward 3. But, incumbent Jolene Biggs faces a challenge from Chelsea Morris in Ward 2.
In Ward 4, Junior Welch has opted not to run, but no one has filed, he said. Although the filing deadline has passed, a write-in effort is still possible.
“We are especially looking for candidates in Ward 4 because that would be a vacant seat,” he said.
He noted the League of Women Voters of Great Bend/Barton County will hold a candidate forum at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 21, in the lower-level meeting room of the Great Bend library.
• The 10th Street reconstruction project, which included much of the busy thoroughfare, is “substantially complete,” Francis said. Final repairs will come next spring.
• The Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip reconstruction is also nearly done. There have been races on it, but some final improvements have yet to be finished, and those will happen in the spring as well.
The 10th Street and dragstrip are sister projects, Francis said. Both are part of a $3.3 million Kansas Department of Transportation cost-share grant program. The city had to cover 25% of the expense.
• The installation of artificial turf on the Great Bend Sports Complex ball fields should be done by Feb. 1, 2022, weather permitting, he said. This is a collaborative effort between the city, the Great Bend Recreation Commission and USD 428.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association just announced that the complex will be the site of the 2022 state high school 1-2A state baseball tournament next spring.
Other projects and issues
“We are kind of in a transition period,” Francis said. The mentioned ongoing projects are wrapping up, but there are new ones on the horizon to start next year. These include:
• The reconstruction of 13 blocks of Broadway from Polk to Morton and the reconstruction of the intersection at 19th and Harrison. These are also sister projects funded in part by a $600,000 Community Development Block Grant and should start in April or May of next year.
• The reconstruction of K-96 between U.S. 56 and Patton Road is also on the way. That is part of KDOT’s Community Connecting Links Program with 90% of the funding coming from the state.
• Also in the works are improvements to Heizer Park.
“It has been slow moving,” Francis said. But, “I am committed to seeing improvements in Heizer Park.”
A public survey last year found the top four recommendations were new playground equipment, bathrooms, lighting and picnic areas.
The city has applied for a Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks grant to fund the restrooms. It has also received a $1,000 grant from Wheatland Electric for the lighting.
But, the equipment is estimated to cost over $200,000, he said. The city received a $50,000 grant from the Harms Trust and another $5,000 grant from the Great Bend Community Foundation.
There is a chance the city can use federal COVID-19 recovery funds to help offset the balance of the project, he said.
“I just ask for your continued patience,” Francis said.
• As for the city’s $2,271,654.71 in American Rescue Plan Act funds, Francis said the first half is committed to the downtown loft program. The second half, which will be available next year, has not been earmarked for any specific project yet.
In addition, “the city is hiring,” he said. They have several openings ranging from the police and fire, to public lands, works and utilities.
“We are an employer of choice.”