Entities mull plans for sales tax

10/2/2013

Rental inspections, Jennie Barker project also discussed.

Rental inspections, Jennie Barker project also discussed.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

No firm decisions were made or actions taken Tuesday during a joint meeting between Garden City, Holcomb and Finney County officials, but the group did discuss three topics in general: a proposed March special election sought by the county asking voters to extend a sales tax for a building project; a Jennie Barker Road expansion; and the feasibility of a rental inspection program.

County officials reiterated their desire to extend a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for a court services related building project 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 sometime next June, July or August. The county, the city of Garden City and the city of Holcomb contribute to the tax, which generates $1.8 million to $2 million per year.

Randy Partington, county administrator, said the estimated cost for the project is $4.3 million but could be closer to $5 million when factoring inflation and potential architectural or engineering fees.

"Do you guys want to pledge your portion to that one bond payment, or have it separate?" Partington said.

The county is in the process of preparing a ballot question for a special election in March that would allow voters to decide whether to extend the LEC tax. To get on the ballot, the county needs to prepare and approve a resolution by the end of December.

The two cities, Garden City and Holcomb, need to decide whether to commit their shares of the sales tax toward the proposed building project or keep the revenue for other purposes. Without the two cities, Finney County could collect about $900,000 per year to finance a project.

Partington said using only the county's share, it might take six years for the county to pay off the bond, whereas it would only take three years if the cities participated.

The Holcomb City Council indicated last week it would prefer to keep its share of the tax to address the city's own needs. Garden City has not definitively indicated what it will do, but Garden City Manager Matt Allen indicated the city commission has consistently preferred to use sales taxes to provide property tax stabilization and for infrastructure purposes.

Allen said the city's share of the sales tax, about $900,000 per year, would amount to about 5.5 mills in property taxes.

"The services are fantastic. I think it's a much needed project for the community. I think the question for our commission is does it rise to the level of pledging ... the resources as we did for a jointly operated facility that we were both housed in, and encompassed a lot of shared partnerships?" Allen said.

County Commissioner Larry Jones said he looks at it as a community project.

"It's not only going to be used by just Holcomb or Garden City residents, it's going to be county-wide residents," Jones said. "It's fortunate that we have a pull factor so it would be paid for by a lot of people who come here and shop. If we could pay it off in three years, that would be great."

Partington said another reason the county wants to know what the cities are going to do is the question is likely going to come up among voters.

"I want to be prepared as we educate people. Do we say we don't know what the cities are going to do, but we're sure they're going to use it wisely?" he said.

Partington said the county probably will start its education process closer to the end of this year and hope the cities might have an answer by then. Regarding a possible rental inspection program, no clear consensus was reached. City officials hope to get county buy-in if a program is implemented in order to avoid pushing landlords into the county to avoid regulations.

The rental inspection program idea was brought up by City Commissioner Melvin Dale over the summer due to a concern about non-code compliant rental housing that could pose a danger to people living in sub-standard conditions.

Dale is interested in implementing some sort of monitoring and inspection program so renters can be assured when they sign a lease that the apartment has acceptable standards for things like running water and smoke detectors.

Most officials agreed smoke detectors, and possibly carbon monoxide detectors, should be required in rental units. But others wondered how the inspections would work, what inspectors would look for, and what enforcement would be involved for a failed inspection.

"The largest problem is how are you going to enforce this thing?" County Commissioner Roman Halbur said. "If you do enforce it, charges could be passed on to tenants, and a lot of them can't hardly afford what they're paying now. Are you going to make it impossible for some of your poorer tenants to even have a place to live?"

Mayor Dan Fankhauser said that currently, housing inspections are driven by complaints from tenants, which leads the city to send out an inspector to investigate. However, he said sometimes renters don't want to complain for fear of angering a landlord and getting kicked out.

"And who handles the cost? How do we get reimbursed? It's unfortunate, but there are a few landlords who just don't take care of property. The majority of them I think do, or try to," Fankhauser said. "You hate to come up with a rule for everybody."

Dale said the goal is not to go after anyone in particular. His goal is to create a level playing field, so when a person first rents an apartment or house, they will have a good, safe place to move into.

"Most things are covered under state law concerning residential neglect. There's a particular place in the law that says every time a person moves into a place the person renting it is required to do a walk-through and a written inspection, and both parties get copies. I've not talked to anybody who gets those in most cases (here)," Dale said.

Dale said it should be a simple process. To start, He would ask that all rental properties to be listed with the city require a business license and limit the inspection program to units or complexes older than 10 years because newer properties are more likely to already meet building codes.

Fankhauser suggested each governing body talk about the issue at a future time and then let the others know what consensus was reached.

Regarding Jennie Barker Road, city and county officials agreed the road probably should have been widened to four lanes about 10 years ago when the cost was around $500,000, but the city was non-committal about partnering on the road project now.

The county estimates turning Jennie Barker into a four-lane road from Schulman Avenue to Kansas Highway 156 would cost about $2.8 million.

"And that's just an estimate. When it's actually constructed it will probably be more than that," Partington said. "Obviously, there's development going on in that area. The county commission has it in our capital plan in a couple years. We don't know how we're going to pay for it."

Traffic counts taken by the county last month indicate nearly 3,200 vehicles per day use the road. County Commissioner Dave Jones said part of the county's discussions have been whether to rebuild it as a two-lane, a four-lane county road, or seek some help and build it as a four-lane road to the city's higher standard, with curb and gutter and storm sewers.

Allen said everyone agrees the best time to do the project was 10 years ago, but the second best time may be to start taking some steps toward doing it now. Ideally, it would be a four-lane, curb and gutter, with allowance for things like sidewalks and foot traffic.

Commissioner Larry Jones raised the possibility that the city and the county could, as part of the ballot initiative for the court services project, designate a portion of sales tax toward Jennie Barker Road, essentially asking voters to approve two projects.

"I think that would appeal to a lot of voters, getting two major projects accomplished in a period of time," he said.

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