Volunteers could begin knocking on doors later this week asking for signatures on petitions calling for a city election for a half-percent retail sales tax to help fund bonds for $94,035,000 in improvements for Hays USD 489.
Board of education members gave the OK at Monday’s work session to move forward with the petitions.
Information about the proposed improvements is posted on the USD 489 website, www.usd489.com.
Ten percent of qualified voters in the city of Hays must sign the petitions, Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus said.
“If you live in this school district, but outside the city limits of Hays, you’re going to vote on the bond, but not on the sales tax,” BOE Attorney Bill Jeter said.
The school district also will ask patrons to vote to approve an increase in property taxes to fund the remainder.
BOE member Luke Oborny said the board likes the idea of a sales tax to lessen the increase of property taxes, but the time it will take to get signatures — and have them verified — is a concern.
Allowing time to circulate the petitions and have them verified means the election likely won’t be until early June.
“Let’s give it a try,” Oborny said. “We don’t know. We may get these signatures in our 10-day timeline.”
“I think we have to do it anyway,” BOE member Mandy Fox said.
The BOE is pursuing the petition option after the Hays City Commission declined to move forward with a sales tax on its own after hearing a presentation from BOE representatives in January.
Even if the petition drive is successful, “it’s discretionary with the city commission whether to have a special election,” Jeter said. “If not, it will be at the next election at which the city is participating.”
That could be a primary in August 2017, if there are enough candidates to have a primary. If not, it would be November 2017.
Fox asked if anyone has talked to the city about an election based on petition.
There have been initial talks that will be ongoing, BOE President Lance Bickle said.
“We wouldn’t know until we went to the commission with the certified petition,” BOE member Paul Adams said.
Jeter has the petition ready and plans to deliver a copy as soon as possible to Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees.
Jeter also is the Ellis County counselor, so Drees will review the petition to avoid a conflict of interest.
After Drees approves the petition, volunteers will begin getting signatures.
If the petition is ready, they will start at the town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at O’Loughlin Elementary School.
Adams asked if the city vetoes a special election, if the school district could have an election to pay for the bonds with an increase in property tax, and follow up with a sales tax election in 2017.
“You could do a bond first, and do a sales tax later,” Jeter said.
“We’ll develop a drop-dead date so everybody knows we have to have (petitions) by this date. If not, we’ll proceed without it,” Superintendent Dean Katt said.
The BOE had a 15-minute executive session to discuss negotiations and personnel.
BOE Vice President Josh Waddell and Danielle Lang were absent.