Sales tax backers begin to push for yes vote
Kenneth Bernard is doing his best to ensure that when an out-of-county car pulls into the Petro Deli parking lot and its occupants go inside to buy a soft drink and chicken strips, the county's taxpayers aren't left empty-handed.
He wants the same for county taxpayers from out-of-towners coming to Fort Leavenworth who might shop downtown Leavenworth, Interstate 70 travelers stopping at the Waffle House restaurant in Bonner Springs or those spending a weekend at the Amanna Elan bed and breakfast inn in Tonganoxie.
Bernard, Lansing's mayor, is helping lead the charge for approval of a new 1 percent countywide sales tax. The proposal, which would raise an estimated $63 million over its 10-year life, will be put before voters on April 5. The tax would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2007.
The idea behind the tax is simple, supporters say: It is a revenue source for the county and its cities that helps to keep property taxes down, and it isn't solely paid for by county residents.
"It's a real equitable distribution of tax burden compared to the property tax," Bernard has told audiences in a presentation he has given to civic and social groups, business groups and town hall forums around the county.
"Senior citizens don't shop as much, they don't buy as much, so they don't pay as much. People who buy pay the tax," Bernard said. "But here's the key: The sales tax collects additional monies from transients, visitors, and other people shopping in the county. Those people who do not pay property tax in Leavenworth County still pay the tax. They will help pay."
The idea of a countywide sales tax isn't new to Leavenworth County; there's been one in place since 1996. The county used its share to build the Leavenworth County Justice Center. Because state law requires that part of the money raised through the tax go to the cities in which the money was raised, Lansing, Leavenworth, Tonganoxie, Bonner Springs, Basehor, Linwood and Easton also shared in the take.
But that tax expires on Dec. 31, 2006, and city and county officials don't want to think about what they'd have to do to replace the revenue stream. Instead, they want voters to approve a new, replacement 1-cent sales tax.
"People need to understand that this tax is not in addition to," Bernard said. "When one expires, the new one picks up. You'll be paying the same amount of sales tax you are now."
No organized opposition to the sales tax has surfaced. But that hasn't stopped a committee of representatives from Leavenworth County and its cities from their campaign to get the tax approved.
They have organized a speakers bureau to spread the word about the April 5 vote. Bernard is among those who have given the presentation to numerous groups.
Last week, the group mailed out fliers to every household and business in Leavenworth County. "Armed with information that is relevant, correct, and complete," the fliers said, "you can decide for yourself the best option when it comes to voting on April 5th."
The consequences of voters turning down the question, they reason, are too dire. Property taxes would have to skyrocket to keep pace with the revenue that a sales tax can produce.
The city of Lansing, Bernard said, is in line to receive about $630,000 a year for its share of the sales tax receipts. If the City Council had to raise a like amount through property taxes, Lansing's levy would have to rise 12.09 mills, he said.
In other words, the owner of a home valued for tax purposes at $100,000 would have to pay out an extra $139.04 if the levy was increased by 12 mills. For businesses, which are taxed at a higher rate, the increase would be $302.25 for every $100,000 of assessed valuation.
And that's only for the city's share of the property tax pie.
Leavenworth County estimates it would receive about $2.8 million annually from the renewal of the sales tax. To raise that much money through property taxes, county commissioners would have to increase the levy by about 6.9 mills. That's an additional $71.19 in property taxes for a $100,000 home and an additional $154.75 for every $100,000 assessed valuation for businesses.
"So you can see," Bernard said, "this sales tax becomes very crucial."
Clyde Graeber, County Commission chairman, earlier this year called the vote "probably one of the most important things to ever face Leavenworth County."
The county and city governments, in an effort to entice voters to approve the sales tax, have laid out their plans for spending money raised if the new tax is approved.
The County Commission has identified these as its priorities:
¢ Construction of the supporting road system for a new interchange in Leavenworth County on the Kansas Turnpike
¢ Improvement of arterial road and bridge between Leavenworth and Tonganoxie
¢ Improvement of County Road No. 8 from Kansas Highway 7 west to County Road No. 5
¢ Enhance the communication system for local emergency responders
¢ Additional road improvement projects
In Lansing, the City Council has adopted these priorities:
¢ City Hall expansion with room for the community library
¢ Gilman Road improvements, from K-7 to DeSoto Road.
¢ DeSoto Road improvements, from Ida Street to Eisenhower Road
¢ DeSoto Road Improvements, from 4-H Road to Ida Street
¢ A new City Park
¢ Economic development initiatives
¢ Other infrastructure needs.