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Special election for county sales tax might change

1/10/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

June 4 was the date Ellis County commissioners set in Monday's meeting for a special election on a dedicated sales tax.

That date might change, Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund said Tuesday. Ellis USD 388 has on the ballot June 4 a $10 million bond issue.

"The more we looked at it (Tuesday) morning ... we probably would just add confusion into what they're trying to put forward, (to) put a county-wide issue on the same ballot," Sund said. "We might have to go to a separate date."

If another date is chosen, Sund would like to have the special election still be in June.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to seek legislation to permit Ellis County to ask for a 0.5-percent sales tax through a special election. It would be 100 percent dedicated to the county and to promote the project and sales tax. Commissioners are seeking to fund projects addressing the jail and courthouse, and the proposed new EMS/Rural Fire building.

The county will try to get a bill passed through the Legislature to allow the county to initiate a dedicated sales tax. Under current state law, if voters approve a sales tax, the county would receive less than half of the sales tax revenue, because it would have to share it with each incorporated city in the county. Under a dedicated sales tax, the county would receive all the revenue. Once the project is funded, the tax sunsets.

In Monday's meeting, Sund estimated the jail and courthouse project would cost approximately $7 million to $9 million, and the EMS/Rural Fire building would cost approximately $4 million. He estimated a 0.5-percent sales tax would pay for the two projects in five to six years.

The city of Hays has a 0.5-percent sales tax that funded construction of Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex. That tax went in effect in April 2009 and ends March 31. Projected revenue once the tax sunsets is $10.6 million to $10.7 million.

If voters approve the dedicated tax, Sund said he would prefer to start it July 1, but added it might be as late as Oct. 1.

Sund said local and area legislators in Topeka would be contacted in an effort to get a bill through this session.

"You always want to seek support from your local legislators," he said.

The work doesn't stop once legislators are on board with the bill.

"Once you submit (a bill), it's up to you to work it through the Legislature, make sure it doesn't languish somewhere," Sund said. "You can't just submit it and walk away and expect them to carry the ball. They've got an awful lot of stuff on their plate."

Sund also plans to meet with cities in the county.

"I'm going to ask for their support for the dedicated sales tax for the county," Sund said. "At least, whether if they have no objection to it.

"They don't actually have to take a positive stand. If they're going to object to it, we need to know that ahead of time."

Last month, commissioners approved a plan for a new Ellis County EMS/Rural Fire Department building to be located at the intersection of 22nd Street and General Hays Road.

The improvements to the jail would be directed to an expansion of the number of prisoners it can house. There is room for 30 inmates, Sund said.

The expansion would increase it to 84.

"We're averaging somewhere in the 50s of average daily (inmate) count, which means we're hauling quite a few people out of the county every single day now and have been doing it for some time," Sund said.

The courthouse renovations mainly would be security-related, Sund said.

"Moving prisoners back and forth for hearings, protecting the public and the prisoners, so they don't interact any more than we absolutely have to," he said.

Sund said the projects are needed, if not ones that are appealing to voters.

"They're going to cost a lot of money, but they're necessary projects," Sund said.

"The biggest challenge I think we have with them is they tend not to be glamorous -- not fun, not a swimming pool or sports complex.

"These are just necessary projects that we have to have, not only for public safety, but also for efficiency of services we provide."