County votes to seek state bill


By a 2-1 vote, Ellis County commissioners authorized the county administrator to move forward with proposing state Senate and House bills for a 0.5-percent sales tax, and also to negotiate an interlocal agreement with the city of Hays and other cities in the county.

Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst and Commissioner Swede Holmgren voted for the motion, and Commissioner Barbara Wasinger voted against it in Monday's regular meeting at the Ellis County Courthouse.

"I didn't vote no to pursuing the sales tax," Wasinger said. "I am all for just pursuing the interlocal agreement with the city of Hays.

"It's not a vote against the project itself."

In their Jan. 21 meeting, the commissioners, acting as the Public Building Commission, unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds to finance the proposed new EMS/Rural Fire building; renovation to the Ellis County Courthouse and Ellis County jail; and administrative building renovation projects at 718 Main and 601 Main.

The estimated cost of the projects is $14.5 million. It would be funded through either a dedicated countywide sales tax which would require legislative approval, or through an interlocal agreement with Hays, Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen. In an interlocal agreement, those cities would agree to give the county their share of sales tax revenue for the project. The half-percent sales tax would expire once the project is paid off.

Commissioners had the option of two ballot questions or one but expressed a preference for one question for voters' consideration in an election either this spring or summer. The administrative building renovation projects at 718 Main and 601 Main also will be on the ballot now. Previously, they were to be included in the issuance of bonds but paid for through other budgetary means and not the sales tax.

County Administrator Greg Sund said the 718 Main and 601 Main renovations now are on the ballot so voters can consider their merits as well.

Each incorporated city in the county has the option to agree or decline to give their share of sales tax revenue to the project, but 90 percent of the revenue would come through the county and the city of Hays' share.

"If we come to an agreement with the city of Hays, that doesn't mean we've come to an agreement with the other cities," Sund said. "There potentially could be a 10-percent gap here."

Sund told commissioners once he receives a draft of an interlocal agreement he will meet with city leaders in Hays, Victoria, Ellis and Schoenchen. Ellis would receive approximately 5.7 percent of the sales tax, with Victoria receiving 3.1 percent and Schoenchen 0.4 percent.

The majority of commissioners preferred pursuing both means of paying for the project. Timing was an issue. The deadline for filing a bill to the Legislature expires before the Hays City Commission's next meeting Feb. 14. If for some reason an interlocal agreement could not be worked out with Hays, and no bill was sent to the Legislature, the county would face the option of pursuing a general sales tax, where it could receive just 42 percent of the revenue. A dedicated sales tax that goes through the Legislature and becomes law would guarantee the county 100 percent of revenue.

"I don't think it's bad planning to take a two-pronged approach for this thing, to go in different directions," Sund said. "We can withdraw legislation if we so desire."

In his memo to the commissioners, Sund said if not all four incorporated cities in the county agree to an interlocal agreement, then the county would not be able to present to voters the sales tax is proposed solely for the projects they issued bonds for at their last meeting.

Wasinger said she spoke with two city commissioners and City Manager Toby Dougherty on Monday.

"They were very positive about doing it, thought it would pass 5-0," she said of an interlocal agreement.

"I think the interlocal agreement would be a good idea, shows the city and county working together," Haselhorst said.

Haselhorst also was aware of the deadline for filing a bill comes before the city commission's next meeting.

"I'd say file it, my personal opinion," he said of also going through the Legislature.

Sund was instructed to consult with the county's attorney to see if a city can pull out of an interlocal agreement before the project is paid off.

At their next meeting, commissioners will go over the cost breakdown for each part of the $14.5 million project.

In other business:

* Commissioners took no action on a letter of support for a bike trail plan approved by the Hays City Commission. Haselhorst and Holmgren wanted to see a PowerPoint presentation at the next meeting before giving support. Wasinger's motion for a letter of support died for lack of a second.

* Commissioners approved a resolution for a conditional-use permit for the Fort Hays State University wind farm project.

* Commissioners approved the county asset inventory list as presented.

* Commissioners authorized the county administrator to proceed with seeking grant opportunities to benefit the 230th Avenue and Feedlot Road improvement project.