Two new Ellis County Commissioners, Butch Schlyer and Dustin Roths, will help Commissioner Dean Haselhorst decide in February how to spend $1.4 million in unspent county sales tax money.
“We’ll present them with ‘Here’s a list of what they can do and they can pick the priorities,’” said Ellis County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes.
The money is what’s left over from a one-half cent sales tax the county collected for five years starting in 2013. The tax has been paying off bonds that were issued for construction and upgrading of the Ellis County Law Enforcement Center, renovation of the Ellis County Courthouse and construction of a new Ellis County Fire and Emergency Medical Services building at 1105 E. 22nd.
With those projects completed, and the bonds paid off, the sales tax has ended, but there’s money left over.
About half the money belongs to the City of Hays, whose residents are the big users of the law enforcement, courthouse, fire and emergency services. Through an inter-local agreement signed five years ago, the tax was collected from customers of businesses in both Hays and the county for the purpose of the projects.
Smith-Hanes told the county commissioners in December that it was possible Hays might want its share of the leftover money. When asked about that, Hays City Manager Toby Dougherty said it depends.
“If the balance is spent on items related to things they didn’t complete, that would still meet the intent of the inter-local agreement,” Dougherty said.
Items that could be added to the to-do list include new jail cameras, elevator renovation and HVAC at the law enforcement center, said Smith-Hanes, as well as one more court room that needs renovating at the courthouse, and new doors and bigger generators at the emergency services building.
In December, Haselhorst and outgoing County Commissioner Marcy McClelland both said they’d like the leftover spent on parts of the original projects that weren’t completed.
But outgoing Commissioner Barb Wasinger, who takes her seat in Topeka this coming week as the newly elected representative of the 111th District in the Kansas House of Representatives, said she’d like half the money to go into the county’s general fund to stave off an impending budget crisis.
Putting the money in the general fund, however, doesn’t comply with the inter-local agreement, Dougherty said.
“If they decide they want to roll it into the general fund, that would prompt a discussion,” he said.
Through Dec. 28, when the tax receipts stopped, the county collected $16,299,016 million.
That was $1,947,016 more than the $14,352 million that was originally projected in 2013, according to Smith-Hanes. About 54 percent of the actual receipts, roughly $8.79 million, is the city’s portion of the tax.
The county spent $14,887,328 on the projects. The bonds were paid off in August 2018.
“As exciting as it was to open our facilities, it is thrilling to have the bonds paid off and to have funds remaining,” Haselhorst said in a statement on the sales tax issued in a press release. “I look forward to working with our new commission to determine the best use of these additional proceeds and I’m proud that we were able to sunset the sales tax as promised.”
Smith-Hanes told the county commissioners in December that additional to-do items related to the original projects might very well take the full $1.4 million left over. Haselhorst at that county meeting asked him to prepare a list, with cost estimates for each.
“As long as it’s spent on projects, there is no further discussion,” Dougherty said.
Schlyer and Roths will be sworn in Monday at the 5 p.m. regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St.
A long list of time-sensitive items for their consideration awaits the next few meetings, which is why the sales tax issue has been pushed to February, Smith-Hanes said.
“We’re trying not to overload the new commission,” he said.
Monday’s meeting will be a lengthy one, with many housekeeping items necessary at the start of the year, including reorganization of the commission, Smith-Hanes said.
Other items include: appointments to various boards, such as the Northwest Kansas Community Corrections Board, Northwest Kansas Juvenile Services Board and High Plains Mental Health Board; setting the commission’s meeting calendar; naming the public building commission; appointing department heads; appointing non-commissioner county representatives; appointing the fire board; appointing fire district company chiefs; appointing the local emergency planning council; naming the Ellis County Council on Aging Board; and naming the CARE Council county representatives.
Also on the agenda is renewing the lease agreement with RPM Speedway Inc. for the grandstand, restrooms, parking area and track for RPM’s track racing from April 1 to March 31, 2020.