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Voters to see three city sale tax questions in November
These cover quality of life, funding a police station and paying public safety staff retirement
sales tax question pic
The Great Bend City Council Monday night agreed on what sale tax initiatives to include on the Nov. 2 election ballot. Among other things, improvements to facilities like Heizer Park are under consideration. Heizer Park is shown during a Kendal’s Koffee last August. - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo

There will be three separate City of Great Bend sales tax initiatives on Nov. 2 general election ballot. These would help fund quality of life improvements, pay off the city’s debt incurred for a new police station and cover the cost of changes to the benefit package for the Police and Fire departments.

This was the consensus of the City Council after over two hours of arduous soul-searching discussion during a work session following its regular meeting Monday night. The session was called to finalize the tax questions so they can be submitted to the County Clerk’s Office.

A formal council vote will come at the Aug. 17 meeting.

“Does it scare anybody that we’re taking so much to the people?” Mayor Cody Schmidt said. “We’re taking the world to them.”

After City Administrator Kendal Francis had walked the council through a myriad numbers, options and the potential costs, all council members agreed.

But, “I say take to the people and let them decide,” Ward 4 Councilman Junior Welsch said. This also met with agreement.

Ballot questions

“This is something we’ve been talking about for a little while now over a over a variety of subjects,” Francis said. “We’ve bandied about lots of ideas, but tonight we’re going to have to make some fundamental decisions on the council’s desire for a few different things.”

He then outlined a wide variety of scenarios and how they are projected to play out over the coming years. In the end, the council picked and chose from the ideas presented and arrived at what will go to the voters.

Here is a break down of the three taxes:

• One question will be for a .1% tax to service the debt for a new station. This will sunset in 20 years when the bond expires.

However, the estimated $5,8 million, 25,000-square-foot facility should be paid off before the sunset, so any funds generated after that will roll into an account to pay off future debts.

This is projected to bring in about $370,000 per year.

Originally, this also included replacing City Hall by remodeling the remainder of the Events Center office complex. The cost was estimated at $8 million.

However, voicing the feeling of the council, Ward 1 Councilwoman Lindsey Krom-Craven said she didn’t like the idea of City Hall not being centrally located as it is now. Besides, while the current building has some structural problems, it is downtown and replacing it isn’t a priority.

• Question two calls for a .15% tax for quality of life improvements, such as upgrades to Heizer Park, playground equipment, hike and bike trail maintenance, handicapped accessibility and other improvements. This would not sunset.

It is projected to net about $500,000 annually.

Recommended was up to .15% for quality of life. The council believed this was important, but, wanted to keep the overall sales tax hike down, so this was held to the .15%.

• Question three covers a change in the retirement system for public safety employees.

Currently, City of Great Bend employees (including the Police and Fire departments) retirement plans are with Mission Square Retirement, a non-profit independent financial services corporation providing retirement plans for those in the public sector. The city is not a part of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, although for the past several years, the city has upped the city’s contributions to Mission Square to better align with KPERS.

Under KPERS is Kansas Police and Fire which is specifically for uniformed firefighters and police officers. Great Bend is one of four cities in Kansas not using KPF, which is seen as the industry standard.

Police officers and firefighters say this will make the departments more competitive and help eliminate the rapid turnover that plagues both. It also offers a guaranteed pension for retirees.

However, making the change would be more expensive, about $550,000 per year, City Administrator Kendal Francis said. This is the equivalent of 6 mills in property taxes.

So, the sales tax sought is .2% which would bring in about $750,000 each year.

That is enough to cover the cost for a few years, but it was noted that the cost will increase annually to nearly $850,000 by 2033, and possibly more.

The council fears this will still force the city to raise property taxes to meet the need. “At some point, we will have to raise the mill levy. There will come a time when sales tax won’t cover it,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Jolene Biggs said.

Ward 1 Councilman Alan Moeder was even more blunt. 

“I’m afraid its going to kill our town,” he said. “We are not a growing community. This puts a bunch on the people who are already here.”

Krom-Craven said she understood that, but the community should have the right to make the choice.  

On this question in particular, the council wants there to be a strong public education campaign so voters understand the possible downsides.

The .45% total for all three would the city’s sales tax rate to 8.75%. This is still in the middle of the pack compared to similar cities.

Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Monday night:

• Held a work session to finalize sales tax questions. The city is looking at a .15% sales tax for quality of life improvements, .1 for bond services and .2% to fund a change in the retirement package for police officers and firefighters.

• Approved accepting a federal COVID-19 relief grant to help with pandemic-related expenses at the Great Bend Municipal Airport.

• Approved the seeking of outside funds to repaint Kansas Street from 16th to 24th streets from a four lanes to two lanes with five-foot bike lanes.

• Discussed solutions for the uneven patches found in the recently finished racing surface on the newly reconstructed Sunflower Rod and Custom Association dragstrip at the Great Bend Expo Complex west of town.

• Approved an easement at the Great Bend Municipal Airport The city has leased a portion of the airport apron to the Spray Brothers for the purpose of constructing a hangar project. Nextech is providing cable service to the hangar for computer and other services.

In order to do this, Nextech must acquire an easement from the city to install the buried cable. The city’s engineering and legal departments have reviewed this and both recommended approval, City Attorney Bob Suelter said.

• Heard a report from City Administrator Kendal Francis.

• Approved closing the north half of Lakin Avenue from Main to Kansas from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday Sept. 11, for the remembrance ceremony of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

• Approved abatements for motor vehicle nuisance at 1912 Williams, WHB Inc.

• Approved abatements for trash and refuse at: 1211 Taft St., Ronald Poppe; 2624 24th St., Orvil L Stevens Revocable Trust;

701 3rd St., Juan Garcia; 141 9 Hubbard St., Marcos and Maria Vazquez; 2421 12th St., Marcia Melton; 1445 2nd St., Miguel and Gloria Mota; 221 Holland St., Hector Dominguez; and 1723 3rd St., Aida Molina.