The Ellis County Commission is banking on the third time being a charm. After being rebuffed by voters twice since 2002 on big-ticket renovation/expansion projects, commissioners are hoping for a positive result in the May 14 special election.
On that day, county voters will decide whether to approve a 0.5-percent sales tax for construction of an EMS/rural fire building, as well as renovations to the county jail, Law Enforcement Center and courthouse. The estimated cost of the projects is $12 million to $14.5 million. While the additional tax would not sunset until all the buildings are completed, it most likely would be in place for at least four to five years.
Previous rejections of a sales tax in 2002 and a bond issue in 2008 taught the current commission an important lesson: Don't have such an expense on the same ballot that contains another big-ticket item. In both those years, the City of Hays was pursuing a sales tax of its own. This year, one of the earlier suggested dates for an election was June 4. However, Ellis USD 388 has a $10 million ballot question that date -- so the county moved its election up three weeks.
On the other hand, the upcoming ballot issue is similar to the failed ones. The 2002 election centered on expanding and improving the county jail and law enforcement center. The 2008 vote, which was forced after a successful petition, was to pay for moving the county offices to the Hadley Center.
The county remains committed to making its work spaces efficient and sized correctly. Over time, conditions appear to have worsened. The EMS building is not sufficient for the number of personnel and amount of equipment required. The jail cannot accommodate the daily census, forcing the county to pay other locales to house inmates. And now that administrative offices are committed to relocating to the Commerce Bank building, remodeling issues there and at the courthouse will be needed.
Still, public sentiment does not appear to be running in favor of the proposed bond issue. And even though the county has the authority to issue general obligation bonds to finance the entire project, it needs taxpayer agreement to pay off those bonds.
The commission believes the public has yet to understand the urgency of the project.
"I just want the public education so people for sure know what is going on, and why we're doing this," Ellis County Commission Chairman Dean Haselhorst said recently.
To help get the word out, the commission has scheduled six public forums over the next month. All will be evening meetings starting at 7 p.m. The forums will take place April 16 at the Hays VFW; April 18 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, Victoria; April 23 at the Hays American Legion; April 25 at the Ellis VFW; May 8 at the Hays VFW; and May 9 at the Hays American Legion.
We would encourage the public to take advantage of these forums to answer any questions you might have. If you know you can't -- or won't -- make it in person, we would be happy to ask questions for you. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a note to 507 Main St. If education is what's needed, don't miss out on this learning opportunity.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry