Hays voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of a proposed half-cent sales tax to support Hays USD 489 capital improvement projects during a special election June 7.
Hays city commissioners on Thursday voted 2-1 to call a special election as requested by the school district, which has identified more than $94 million in new construction and renovations projects. A bond issue also likely will be brought before voters at that time as another funding mechanism for the proposed project.
Mayor Eber Phelps and Commissioner Shaun Musil voted in favor of the June 7 election.
“It’s always been my feeling, with infrastructure and so forth, it’s pay me now or pay me later,” Phelps said. “Unfortunately, the later gets a lot more expensive. We can sit here and debate all night long about whether it’s too much, too little or just right. But the fact of the matter is those needs are coming up, and they’re just not going to go away.”
The issue must be brought to a public vote because project supporters fulfilled the legal requirement of a certified petition endorsed by 10 percent of the city’s electors.
Commissioner Lance Jones voted in opposition and instead made a motion to schedule the election in conjunction with the November presidential election. That motion failed due to lack of a second.
As proposed, the sales tax would not take effect until a current half-cent sales tax to fund Ellis County building projects sunsets — October 2018 at the latest.
Jones expressed concern with the district’s desire to call a special election so soon, since there will be other regular elections in that time span. Those elections, he said, might draw more participation.
“It concerns me when one of the school board members stood up here and said that they do not want a high voter turnout for this,” Jones said, noting he supports the bond issue itself. “I went back and listened to the audio from the Jan. 7, 2016, work session and confirmed what I remembered, and somebody did say that. I think for something like this, you ought to have a higher voter turnout.”
School officials desire to settle the matter in a special election to ensure the issue doesn’t “get lost in the shuffle,” said USD 489 Board of Education President Lance Bickle.
“When we start getting into the stuff with the presidential election and things like that ... it just tends to get lost and you don’t have the education,” he said. “In my opinion, that’s truly what we’re trying to get out there to educate people and tell them exactly what it entails, what we’re asking from them and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
If approved, the 0.5-percent special purpose sales tax could not continue longer than 10 years. That would be in addition to a 1.75-percent general purpose sales tax for the city general fund and water expenditures.
Ultimately, the important thing is the voters get to decide, Commissioner Shaun Musil said.
“I support what you guys are trying to do. ... I don’t think any of us are against the schools, it’s just we are concerned it could hurt us in the future, especially for 10 years,” Musil said, noting city sales tax collections have been declining. “There’s a lot of people I talk to ... who say this is just too much all at once. ... But it’s going to go to the voters, and they’re going to make the decision. To me, that’s the most important part.”
Commisioners Henry Schwaller IV and James Meier were absent.
In other business, commissioners authorized city staff to apply for Federal Aviation Administration funding to secure a new snow removal machine for Hays Regional Airport.