Hays City Commissioners won’t officially take sides on a proposed countywide sales tax that Ellis County Commissioners say they want to pull the county out of a financial bind.

A couple of weeks ago, County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes sent letters to the governing bodies of Hays, Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen asking if they would support a sales tax if it is put to a countywide vote.

Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen all replied with letters saying they would support a tax if the county shares the money with each individual city.

Hays didn’t send an official response, but there were informal talks between city and county commissioners, Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller IV said at the city’s regular work session Thursday evening.

“We indicated that we wish them well,” said Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller IV. “Someone wanted to know if we’d vote for it or not. We didn’t say anything of that nature, we just said that we understand that there’s heavy lifting here, it’s your job, go do it.”

He said it is the consensus of the Hays city commissioners, after talking informally with each other one on one, that taking a sales tax to a vote of the public is a big task for the county.

“We did not want to look as if we were going to influence or participate in any way,” Schwaller said. “We know how difficult it is to prepare for a sales tax and then educate the public about that, and we felt that since it was their project, we should let them do it, and that we would stand aside.”

Schwaller said he delivered that message previously to County Commission chairman Dean Haselhorst in a phone call.

Similarly, Schwaller said, one other county commissioner spoke to three of the other city commissioners. He said he was surprised that Smith-Hanes and the county commissioners said at their meeting May 13 that no one had heard from the city of Hays.

“They’ve heard from at least four commissioners,” Schwaller said, adding later, “We wish them the best of luck and hope that they can get their finances in order.”

Schwaller noted, as well, that county commissioners will have to stop saying they will “sell” the sales tax to the public.

“The commissioners were told by the county administrator they can’t continue to say they’re going to sell it, because that’s illegal,” Schwaller said. “You’re not going to sell anything, you’re going to educate the public about the sales tax and let the public decide at the ballot box whether they support it.”

The county is looking at a countywide sales tax to fix its budget crisis in coming years that is threatening deep cuts to county services, county employee wages and benefits, and county hiring.

Any countywide sales tax would require approval of the county’s registered voters.

Sharing the money would more than halve what the county gets.

Following Kansas law, if shared, Hays would get 49.12 percent of the money collected, the county would get 41.65 percent, Ellis would get 5.75 percent, Victoria 3.06 percent and Schoenchen just under half of 1 percent.

It is estimated a quarter-cent special purpose sales tax for county health services, which wouldn’t have to be shared, would raise $1.6 million for the county.

A general purpose half-cent tax, which must be shared, would raise $1.55 million, with the county keeping about $630,000.

In other discussions at Thursday’s meeting, the city commission was briefed on building a classroom at the site of the city’s new Fire Training Facility on Old Highway 40, which was funded by a grant from Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan. The classroom would be added to the site’s new three-story drill tower, drill pad and burn box.

Fire Chief Ryan Hagans told the commissioners the city can get the building for the cost of materials by partnering with Kris Munsch’s Construction Management class in Fort Hays State University’s Department of Applied Technology, which typically builds a garage each year.

“This is well within our abilities to build without a contractor,” said Munsch, who was also at the meeting in City Hall.

The class’s 28 students in the fall can handle the design and cost estimate on the classroom, which will be wood-frame construction with all metal exterior, he said. The spring 2020 concrete class will handle the next phase, while partnering with North Central Kansas Technical College, Hays, for the electricity, plumbing and HVAC, he said.

If approved by the commissioners at their meeting Thursday, Munsch said construction could start in the spring, with the city helping with site grading and concrete work.

“That will be quite a pour, so we’ll get some help,” Munsch told the commissioners.

The commissioners also heard from Public Works director Jesse Rohr about awarding the bid to buy a new truck and snow plow for the Hays Regional Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration will cover 90 percent of the cost. The bid for the equipment came in about $123,320 higher than the estimate, Rohr said.

Adding a combination truck and snow plow, which has been on the Airport Improvement Plan for several years, would replace the existing tractor and loader-mounted steel plow that damages the runway pavement and markings.

Bids came in much higher than the engineer’s February 2019 initial estimate, Rohr said, because of the FAA’s Buy American and all-wheel drive requirements for the vehicle.

“This is a very common plow on the market,” Rohr said.

The only qualified bid was Bruckner Truck Sales Inc., 2101 Commerce Parkway, at $271,039, with the city’s share $27,103, and the FAA paying the rest.

“Without that, we wouldn’t be here asking you for money,” Rohr said.

The city commission was also briefed on the city’s annual contracted sewer cleaning and CCTV inspection. This year it will cover 105,759 linear feet of sanitary sewer pipe, said Water Resources Director Jeff Crispin.

Bids were solicited for the work, which is part of the city’s routine maintenance and repair of the sanitary sewer system. Low bid came from Arizona-based Pro-Pipe, which also has a satellite office in Denver, Crispin said.

Light cleaning of the pipes came in at $97,854, although the department has the authority to spend up to $150,000 when problems like cracks, holes and tree root clogs are found and need repair. The multi-year program was started in 2013. Pro-Pipe also won the 2016 and 2018 contracts.

Crispin said he’s also recommending the city buy a new dump truck to replace a 22-year-old truck. Budgeted at $130,000, the bid for the 4x2 truck came in below that, at $101,717. The Model HV607 International truck and Henderson Mark E-body was bid by Summit Truck Group, of Salina. The truck would replace the city’s 1997 Chevy C8500 Dump Truck, which isn't in service because of a broken frame.

The city’s regular meeting is Thursday in City Hall, 1507 Main St.