A plan to ask Shawnee voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund street repair has been put off until at least November.
The Shawnee City Council voted Monday not to put a proposed one-eighth or two-eighth-cent sales tax increase on a mail-in ballot this spring. Instead, council members will take another look at budget items to see if more money can be found through cost-cutting. The delay should help the council decide how much of a tax increase might be needed, if they decide to go ahead with it, said Councilman Jeff Vaught.
However, the council did decide to put the more popular “parks and pipes” sales tax renewal on the fall election, ensuring it would share the November ballot with any proposed street tax increase.
The council is trying to find a way to come up with additional money for street repairs that are not covered by the $4.1 million already in its annual budget. The three big sources of income for street work are the gasoline tax, an impact fee on the landfill and the city general fund. But the city estimates those resources won’t cover the $6.9 million a year needed for patching and resurfacing.
If extra money isn’t raised, some council members have argued that the street repair program will fall further and further behind and become more expensive later on. Currently about 12 percent of the city’s 780 lane miles of streets are ranked in “poor” shape or worse, said City Manager Carol Gonzales.
The council has considered two options for additional sales tax: One-eighth and two-eighths of a cent. Each eighth-cent would raise $1.25 million per year.
The council had been divided on most aspects of the sales tax proposal, including the amount to ask for and the timing of the election. Mayor Jeff Meyers said city leaders would need to show a good consensus on any tax plan if they expect the public to be convinced.
“When we are putting this before the voters we need to have as much unanimity as possible,” Meyers said.
Vaught, a supporter of a two-eighth-cent increase, agreed, saying he thinks most people would favor the increase if they understood what it’s for.
Councilman Dan Pflumm said he preferred the general election, because the spring mail-in ballot could cost $70,000 while the cost of adding it to November’s ballot would be negligible.
Although Councilman Neal Sawyer supported the delay, he said the city would have to address resources for street maintenance sooner or later. Currently, the city can pay to resurface its streets only once every 27 years.
“For so long Shawnee has just built, built and built and we forget that hey, we have to maintain,” said Sawyer. About a quarter of city streets were built over 70 years ago, he said. “This council and future councils need to come with a program where we bring the city of Shawnee’s standards up for the entire city, not just the new parts,” he said.
The council put the “parks and pipes” sales tax renewal on the fall ballot, even though it does not expire for almost two years. Parks and pipes is a one-eighth-cent sale tax that generates around $650,000 per year for storm water maintenance and parks. That tax has been in place for about 15 years.
At an earlier committee meeting, some council members wanted to add the older sales tax because public opinion polls show a street tax on its own might not get voter approval.
The council will have until July to decide whether a street repair sales tax will be on the November ballot.