Ellis County will ask the City of Hays to give $1 million to the planned Northwest Business Corridor project.

So far the city has paid $248,000 toward the county’s $10.8 million project, set to transform three heavily traveled county roads into a highway bypass skirting a busy industrial area northwest of town.

But the city will be asked to give more, this time some of its share of a quarter-cent countywide sales tax that Ellis County voters just approved in a mail-in ballot election.

By state law, the city gets 49.12 percent of the general sales tax, which will be in force on all purchases made in the county over the next 10 years. The city commission didn’t take a position for or against the tax in the run-up to the election.

“I think it’s a good idea, they’re going to benefit from that more than we are, at the end of the day, in collecting city sales tax,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst at the commission’s regular meeting Monday evening.

“I think it would be a good idea,” agreed Commission Chairman Butch Schlyer. “The City of Hays is collecting quite a windfall from that sales tax, so if they could help us a little bit on that corridor project, that would be great.”

A $6.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration will pay for much of the project, and the county is planning to dedicate some of its $2.2 million annual sales tax proceeds to the bypass.

That leaves $1.7 million short, said interim county administrator Darin Myers. Some of that could come from additional federal CARES Act funding for the COVID-19 pandemic, Myers said, or the county could issue bonds, he said.

The 55-mph bypass around Hays for north-south US-183 highway is considered key to a planned $40 million private travel plaza development for trucks and super loads off Interstate 70 in the city limits.

The city in February gave the county $284,000 for the corridor. That money was left-over sales tax proceeds from the last 10-year countywide sales tax, which expired in September 2019.

“They will see hits to their budget with what is going on with this pandemic,” said Commissioner Dustin Roths on Monday. “Our request is to get them to a million dollars in funding towards the project, meaning $716,000 and some odd dollars over two years.”

Giving $358,000 a year for two years would make the city a partner in the project, Roths said.

“A million dollars is a big ask, but they are seeing revenues that they weren’t expecting,” he said. “I would hope that $358,000ish per year for two years, that we wouldn’t be asking too much and that they could see the benefit for both of us now, with sales tax revenue.”

“That’s doable,” Schlyer said.

“We’ve done a lot of projects for them, I guess, that we’ve never gotten reimbursed for,” Haselhorst added.

“And they’ll probably be asking for more,” Schlyer said.

“I think the county has done a great job of helping the city out, very much so, in the last many years,” Haselhorst continued.

“And I think that will continue,” Roths said, noting the city is a big economic driver in the county. “The aligning of our interests is really good in the sales tax revenue, and we can become mutual partners on a big project out there that should generate quite a bit of sales tax revenue. But also it’s hopefully a windfall of cash for them that they can help us all throughout the territorial jurisdiction. There are a lot of roads that people don’t know if they’re city or county roads, and there’s a lot of taxpayers that drive those roads.”

The commissioners told Myers to draft a letter for them to approve at their next regular meeting this Monday in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main.

The commissioners also asked Myers to start talking to Ranson Financial Group, Wichita, legal advisors to local governments for issuing bonds to raise money for capital projects.

The county commissioners have said they’ll use a portion of the new sales tax proceeds for road and bridge improvements. Before the pandemic, the commissioners had been planning an all-day April 22 tour of county roads to confirm what projects should make the to-do list.

“Our current interest rates for bonding are half what they were a month ago,” Myers told the commissioners Monday. “I would suggest not delaying the road tour.”

“We have lots of things that need to be fixed,” Haselhorst said.

“If we’re talking about bonding, that would give us an idea of what kind of bonding we’re looking at,” Roths said. “Especially while interest rates are low, I think it’s a good idea for us to take a hard look at these projects, and at least get low interest rates on them.”

To abide by the Kansas Open Meetings Act, the commissioners said they’ll limit conversations about county business to the stops at each possible project site. The tour will include Public Works Director Bill Ring and Road and Bridge Supervisor Curt Hoffman, as well as any media. The commissioners also decided to take three or four pickups to maintain social distancing recommended by the Ellis County Health Department, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think we could throw a mask on, I’m not too worried about it from my perspective,” Roths said.

“It’s about the same here,” said Schlyer, former long-time Ellis County health administrator. “I’m not too worried about it.”

“I think the appearance is very important right now,” Ring told the commissioners.