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Water tops city's legislative priorities

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

Hays city commissioners, in anticipation of January's new legislative session, voted at Thursday's meeting to approve a 2013 statement of legislative priorities.

The two-page document, outlining issues identified as important to Hays, begins, not surprisingly, City Manager Toby Dougherty said, with the subject of water.

"We want to make sure there are adequate laws on the books and regulations that allow cities to adequately plan and conserve water," he said. "To make sure that cities have the ability to regulate local water supplies and also protect water supplies from encroachment and or quality contamination issues."

Looking forward to future financial concerns, Dougherty said, the document addresses general, special parks, motor vehicle and special alcohol taxes, which are collected locally by the state and given back to cities for specific purposes. Although the funds haven't been reallocated to the state's general fund to cover shortfalls, Dougherty said legislators have discussed the possibility.

Sales and property tax exemptions also are listed in the document. Given in a somewhat "carte blanche" manner, Dougherty said personal property tax exemptions for such things as business equipment should be re-evaluated.

"This is all done under the guise of economic development," he said. "I'm not disputing the logic behind it, but the reality is the state gets a half of 1-percent of its revenue from property taxes.

"Cities, schools and counties get a significant, if not 100 percent, of their revenues from property taxes. So for the state to allow for that exemption that doesn't really impact them, to me, is a little disingenuous."

The document also addresses ad valorem taxes, the taxpayer bill of rights and stormwater management rules.

Although he voted to approve the legislative priorities, Commissioner Henry Schwaller IV said he disagreed with some of its elements, including its stance against property tax exemptions for business equipment. Schwaller recalled that, during the 1985 recession, legislators removed the property tax on business equipment to level the playing field with nearby states that did not tax business equipment.

"This was a long overdue repeal," Schwaller said. "I understand it does create heartache for local units of government, but to be quite honest, local units of government have not spent money wisely. And in the last 10 years, many counties, cities and school districts have passed on mill levy increases with no real accountability to the public."

In other business, commissioners:

* Approved a bid from Berry Equipment Co. for $23,000 for rental of a concrete crusher.

* Authorized Dougherty to enter into a contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas to provide health insurance coverage for city of Hays employees in 2013.

* Voted 4-0 to contract with Organizational Development Services to perform a wage and benefit study for the city of Hays, at a cost of $22,800.

Commissioner Barbara Wasinger was absent.