A hefty increase in the state sales tax in July has so far not done much to discourage city officials in Gardner from seeking to repurpose a 10-year-old sales tax originally intended to build a city park and aquatic center.
City council members say they’ve heard very little negative feedback from voters about a proposal to add another 10 years of life to the half-cent special sales tax and use the proceeds to repair city streets, sidewalks and trails.
Voters should receive mail-in ballots on the question today, with the deadline to return them by noon Sept. 15.
If the tax is approved, it will become effective Jan. 1, the day after the current tax expires. It is expected to raise $1 million per year for street repair that officials say cannot be made without an extra infusion of cash.
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The council decided to seek the tax because of reports that say the streets are in dire need of repair. If the city continues to repair roads at its current rate, only 5 percent of roads will be in satisfactory condition 10 years from now, according to a city study. In addition, some 69 percent of asphalt park trails are considered “failed,” “very poor” or “serious” and 3 percent are considered satisfactory.
Approval of the tax would not increase the city’s overall 9.225 percent sales tax rate because it is the same amount as the original tax. However that’s still higher than it was a year ago because of the Kansas Legislature’s recent decision to raise the state’s portion of sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.5 percent to deal with a budget shortfall. Until that happened, Gardner’s sales tax was 8.875 percent.
Most residents Mayor Chris Morrow has heard from have been understanding about the need to continue the sales tax, he said.
Morrow said he’s heard from a few people experiencing “tax fatigue” because of the state sales tax increase, the county’s pending property tax increase and rising wastewater rates. But most of them also know that the city rolled back the property tax rate by 2 mills last year as it made cuts in its 2015 budget, he said.
City council member Lee Moore said most of the feedback he’s heard has been positive. Moore, elected last spring, said “most folks I talked to since the campaign universally recognize the infrastructure needs a shot in the arm. It seems like a worthwhile endeavor for us.”
Gardner streets are “basically crumbling and falling apart,” he said. If repairs are made, it will reassure companies looking to move into town that the city is serious about keeping up its infrastructure, he said.
Some residents have expressed concern about the refusal of supposedly temporary taxes to die, said Councilwoman Kristy Harrison. “The most negative feedback I’ve had is that they don’t believe anything ever ends,” she said. “Once you put a tax on you’ll never get rid of it.”
Harrison said people who’ve talked to her about the tax agree street repairs are needed but question why it has to be done by sales tax rather than property tax.
Nevertheless, people are happy they are getting a chance to vote on it, she said.
Councilman Rich Melton said people tell him they want to make sure the money really goes to street repair. To that end, the city will have a special citizens’ committee to prioritize the repairs, if the measure is passed.
“They know we have neglected a lot of stuff and we’ve got to get it fixed somehow. We don’t have it in the general revenue,” Melton said. “The last thing they want to see is our roads turning into Missouri.”