Voters could get county sales tax issue as early as May
By RANDY GONZALES
Ellis County commissioners had a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to discuss talking points for a proposed county sales tax.
Commissioners, who met with department heads and staff in the Law Enforcement Center conference room, will ask voters' consideration for expansion and improvements to the county jail, Law Enforcement Center and courthouse, as well construction of an EMS/rural fire building. A 0.5-percent sales tax could be on the ballot as soon as May 14.
The city of Hays' 0.5-percent sales tax for the construction of Bickle/Schmidt Sports Complex sunsets March 31.
"I think it's important to tell people it's not an additional tax," said Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund. "The tax on Hays' sports complex goes off at the end of this month.
"So, for anyone who spends money in Hays, it's just going to go off and come back on, if this gets passed. It's not additional; it's a replacement tax."
Sund said it would be helpful to have a gap between the city's tax going off and the county's tax going on, if approved by voters.
"I think it's important to have this break in here, too, because then it doesn't look like we're just extending the tax," he said. "This is establishment of a different sales tax."
Ellis County District Court Judge Glenn Braun said improved courthouse security is needed and gave an example.
"Tuesday, we're going to have a jury trial," he said. "We're going to have jurors, witnesses, a defendant, the defendant's family, the general public -- all of us in the same hallway.
"The opportunity for a disaster is just there, because of lack of security of entry into the building, and the mixture of people you have. ... That lends itself to potentially a very unfortunate incident, that you don't see in many courthouses. Twenty five years ago, it wasn't a problem; today, it is."
Sund provided updated estimates of the two big projects, the courthouse and jail/law enforcement center expansion and renovation and the EMS/rural fire building. The courthouse and jail is estimated to cost $8,512,932, and the new EMS/rural fire building is at $3,797,266.
Two smaller projects -- renovations to administrative buildings at 718 Main and 601 Main -- are expected to cost approximately $1 million. Those two projects would be paid for through property tax, not the sales tax, but would be included in the bond issue. The Public Building Commission has authorized the issuance of bonds not to exceed $14.5 million.
Sund and department heads were scheduled to have another information meeting today with the Hays Kiwanis Club.
"The thing we have to keep on is this is mostly safety and security when it comes to the courthouse," Sund said.
It was discussed to include pictures with the presentation, and it was agreed there was a need for a brochure to be put together, so it could be handed out at future presentations.