City still uncertain about use of sales tax

11/6/2013

Support of extension present; willingness to give portion of sales tax still unclear.

Support of extension present; willingness to give portion of sales tax still unclear.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Garden City commissioners were non-committal Tuesday about using the city's portion of a proposed sales tax extension toward a judicial administrative building sought by Finney County, but were generally supportive of asking voters to approve the extension.

All five county commissioners attended Tuesday's city commission meeting to directly request a partnership with the city on the proposed March special sales tax election.

The county is seeking an extension of a quarter-cent sales tax to finance a 25,000-square-foot building that would house court services, youth services and community corrections on county-owned property adjacent to the juvenile detention facility.

Currently, the sales tax is being used to pay for cost of improvements made in the past to the Law Enforcement Center. Bonds for that project are anticipated to be paid off in July 2014, three years earlier than expected.

To hold a special election in March asking voters for a sales tax extension, the county needs to approve a resolution by the end of December.

"What are you asking for today? Our support or our money?" Mayor Dan Fankhauser said.

Randy Partington, county administrator, said generally the county needs direction from the city on the level of support it's willing to give.

"Is it the full sales tax, 100 percent? If not, is it going out and helping to educate? Is it 25 percent, 10 percent? We kind of need to know as we go forward," he said.

Partington said the county commission needs to have a resolution to look at by the end of November, and ballot information needs to go to the county clerk by the end of December.

Partington said the estimated cost of the building is $6.6 million.

Including bonding costs, the project would cost about $7.3 million and be paid off in four to four and a half years if the city agreed to add its share of the sales tax extension with the county's share.

The project would cost about $8 million and take nine years for the bond to be paid off if the county financed it alone.

Some of the benefits of the project touted by the county included the use of sales tax, rather than property tax, to pay for it, a portion of which comes from people outside the county; law enforcement officers would be able to bring juveniles to detention in a secured area for processing, intake and assessment; centrally located services; and a potential for future savings on administrative operations.

City Commissioner Melvin Dale agreed the building is needed and understands the importance of having the four entities near each other.

"Also, I realize we need to do this jointly as far as getting this on the ballot and passed. I can't say what we could pledge at this time, but certainly I think maybe somewhere down the line we could figure out something."

However, Dale indicated the city likely wouldn't want to provide its entire portion of the sales tax. Instead, he said, the city probably ought to use those funds for continued property tax stabilization, though also was willing to help the county in other ways.

County Commissioner Dave Jones said it may be a "difficult sale" to ask voters to approve the extension unless the city and county can partner and show voters it is a combined effort.

"It's a much easier thing for voters to digest," Jones said. "I would ask you to consider we need some indication (of the city's level of support) before we draw up a resolution and start the education process."

City Commissioner Chris Law said it's a good project and would be beneficial in the long run, but felt city residents, who are also county residents, already contribute to county sales tax revenues.

"We may want to use some of that money for our things, too," Law said.

County commissioner Larry Jones said the county views the project as a community project.

"The city and county have worked closely in the past. I think we need to continue that, but we have to sell this to the voters not as a new tax, but as an existing tax that's already in place, already being collected," he said. "The burden does not fall strictly on Finney County. It falls on lots of people because we're a shopping Mecca or hub now. I think that's a real strong selling point."

The city commission indicated a general support for the sales tax extension but made no decision Tuesday about how it would support the issue. The city commission may discuss the issue again at its next meeting in two weeks.

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