Folks, I've said it before. There is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. You have to be old like me before you will see it stay temporary more than once.
As I was watching the Jan. 25 Hays City Commission meeting, I couldn't believe what I was hearing when it came time for the Ellis County commissioner to ask the city council for their support on the temporary tax they would like to get. Up to the time of that meeting, all I read about in the paper was about getting a 0.5 percent sales tax for building a bigger jail, remodeling the courthouse, building a fire station for the county and something for the ambulance people.
To start out with, they do not want a "sunset" on that tax. They, the county, want the tax to go on until their projects are finished. First of all, I think the county was very vague about what these projects will cost. Here is when it got interesting.
When the county commissioner was asked by one of the city commissioners as to why the county did not want a "sunset" (a certain cutoff point for the sales tax), the truth came out. Remember, the state law as it is now says the county must give about half of what they collect to the cities in the county.
However, the county wants the city to go into a local government agreement that says they could get all of the money. I think that would set a precedent we would all regret in due time. I'm saying let the county do their thing, and let the city do theirs.
Now about the truth coming out. Did anybody ever read about anything being on the ballot besides the projects I mentioned earlier? The county commissioners' reasoning for keeping all the money, without a cutoff date, was that when the above projects were paid for they could just keep on collecting the sales tax and use it to remodel the Commerce Bank building. Just when would their projects end so the sales tax would end? I even talked to God and he told me that he thought he knew everything, but even he could not answer that.
Does the sports complex ballot come to mind? The ballot for the sports complex said only the sales tax would be used to build it. First thing we knew, the county was furnishing a whole bunch of heavy equipment, manpower and all the expenses that go with it. The county commissioners called that "in-kind" work. I have no problem with the county helping the city or the city helping the county in time of emergencies so either one can continue to function.
When I contacted the attorney general's office about using property tax money to build the sports complex, he said, "Where on the ballot did it say that they cannot do that?" He proceeded to tell me all they have to do is say there is revenue for it. Hell yes, there is revenue for it, because we see it every year when we get our tax bills. What we see coming out of Washington -- isn't it a shame it has reached the state and local level in Kansas? Don't our local elected officials think for just one minute if they just told the truth about what they put on the ballot, it would be just that? But then I wouldn't be writing this letter.
About the Commerce Bank building, my question to the county commissioners is this. Where is the money you said all along would be left over from the sale of the property at 22nd and Vine? You told us over and over that the profit from that property would cover the remodeling of the Commerce building.
Please don't take integrity out of the equation. If you want $10, put $10 on the ballot -- don't try to figure out a way how you can finagle us out of another five.
The guy in the attorney general's office also told me if I don't like how the property tax was used on the sports complex, I could always file a lawsuit. I guess that's how far we have come in this country. Very sad, but true.
Fast-forward to the Feb. 5 HDN. I read the number of projects that were supposed to be paid for by this sales tax went from three to four and now to five. Folks, this is why the county commissioners do not want a cutoff date on this tax. Does anybody honestly believe they will stop there?
I think there is one thing the voters of Ellis County should be made aware of.
If the county is able to get this legislation passed, will it be for just these projects or will it be forever? I think the voters of Ellis County would appreciate it if the city attorney and the county attorney would issue a joint statement as to how it would be.
P.S. About God maybe (just maybe) not knowing everything. When we finished our little talk, he said this to me, "Is this all you have to do?"
Vernon S. Befort