Ellis County’s new sales tax goes into effect at retail cash registers starting Oct. 1, when shoppers will pay an extra half-cent of tax on every dollar spent.
The tax remains in effect for the next 10 years.
Ellis County voters in early April approved the tax through a mail-in ballot election.
“We won’t see any money until sometime in November,” said Ellis County Clerk Donna Maskus, noting that the state reimburses the county. “We will reap those benefits in November.”
Of 16,709 residents of the county who registered to vote, 42% returned the mail-in ballot. Mail elections are uncommon.
“Usually our mail ballots do real well,” Maskus said on Thursday. “This was the first time since 2012 we did a mail-in ballot election countywide.”
The ballot carried two questions, asking voters to decide on each quarter-cent of tax. Both were approved.
One quarter-cent of sales tax is dedicated to health services, with the proceeds going to Ellis County’s EMS and Health Department.
The other quarter-cent is a general sales tax that, by law, must be shared proportionally with Hays, which gets 49.12%, as well as single-digit percentages with Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen.
On the health services sales tax, 4,260 people voted yes, and 2,261 voted no. On the general sales tax, 3,886 voted yes and 2,630 voted no, Maskus said.
The two rates will be added to the 6.5% Kansas charges for sales tax, as well as any rates charged by the individual cities.
The new countywide rate starting Oct. 1 will be 7% in areas of Ellis County outside of municipalities, most of which levy a city tax, said Darin Myers, interim county administrator.
Hays already has a 1.75% sales tax in place, while Ellis levies a 2% sales tax and Victoria a 1% sales tax. Schoenchen doesn’t have a sales tax.
In Hays, the tax rate in most areas of the city will be 8.75%, although some retail areas, such as Home Depot, Big Creek Crossing and the hotels, charge additional rates, Myers said.
In breaking down the voting, Maskus said 538 ballots arrived after the mail-in deadline and couldn’t be counted. Another 574 were missing a required signature on the back of the ballot envelope or were not the voter’s signature. The clerk’s office staff attempted to reach as many of those voters as they could, but many didn’t have phone numbers and had to be contacted by mail.
Finally, 1,169 ballots were returned as not deliverable to the address voters had provided when they registered to vote, such as post office boxes that have been discontinued.
“I encourage voters to go into ellisco.net and review their voter registration information,” Maskus said. “I don’t want to deny anybody the right to vote, but we have to have that clear information.”
It’s estimated that the two quarter-cent sales taxes will generate a total of $2.2 million annually for the county.
One of the quarter-cent sales taxes is dedicated to health services, as allowed by law. All the proceeds will go to Ellis County’s EMS and Health Department.
The other quarter-cent general sales tax, by law, must be shared proportionally with Hays, which gets 49.12%, as well as single-digit percentages with Ellis, Victoria and Schoenchen.
The county commissioners have said they’ll use some of the new general sales tax to pay for much-needed improvements to the county’s 140 miles of blacktop and 200 bridges.
The commissioners the past two years have cut more than $2 million out of the county budget. About 70% of the county’s funding is from property taxes, real estate taxes and oil and gas revenues. A small portion comes from a wind farm, and Emergency Services and other fees.
The commissioners have said they may raise property taxes as much as 1.8% for 2021, since income from oil valuation will take a steep drop.