No. 7: Finney County seeks quarter-cent sales tax extension

12/25/2013

Editor's note:This is the fourth in a series stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories for 2013.

Editor's note:This is the fourth in a series stories featuring The Telegram's top 10 news stories for 2013.

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

In April, officials with Youth Services, Community Corrections and Court Services came to the Finney County Commission proposing building a new facility next to the Juvenile Detention Center to house their operations.

The goal of the new building is to create a one-stop shop for court-ordered services. Currently, those services are spread out in leased office space across town.

The county commission agreed the building project was needed, and embarked on a quest to ask voters to approve an extension of an existing sales tax next year to pay for the project.

The sales tax extension issue is No. 7 on The Telegram's list of top stories of the year.

The county has scheduled a March 4, 2014, special election to ask voters to approve 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 the 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.

The project's estimated cost is $6.625 million. Sales tax revenue would back the issuance of bonds not to exceed that amount, assuming voters approve the sales tax extension.

Community Corrections and Youth Services lease office space at 601 N. Main St. and 2701 N. 11th St., and both leases, paid for by the Kansas Department of Corrections and Juvenile Justice Authority, respectively, are set to expire in 2014. Court services is located at 405 N. Eighth St., and JDC is at 507 W. Santa Fe St., both owned and maintained by the county.

The estimated cost of the project escalated through the year. Initially, a rough estimate for an 18,000-square-foot building was projected at around $2 million but officials learned building a new building would be more expensive.

An architectural study presented to the county in June projected a 26,729 square foot building would cost about $4.36 million. Cost estimates continued to grow over several months as the project and funding for it were discussed, going to $5 million, then $6.5 million, and an estimate in November of up to $8 million before coming down to an amount not to exceed $6.625 million contained in the ballot issue resolution.

Over the summer, the county also considered options to buy and remodel existing buildings but determined a new building was the best option.

The county, Garden City and Holcomb contribute to the LEC sales tax, with the lion's share split between Garden City and Finney County.

In November, the county formally asked the city of Garden City to put a portion of its share of the sales tax toward the project. Holcomb previously indicated it would keep its share if the measure passes.

Garden City also intends to keep its share of the sales tax, if the issue passes, to use toward property tax stabilization. The city indicated it would help educate voters about what the money would be used for, but declined to participate financially in the county's project.

If all of the sales tax revenue was used, the project could be paid off much sooner, likely in four years instead of nine.

This month, Commissioner Roman Halbur proposed putting the issue off until the already scheduled November general election due to concerns about low turnout at the special election likely spelling doom for the issue.

"I would rather put this thing on the ballot in the fall than I would now and losing. I'm going to vote against putting it on now. If we did happen to get lucky and have it pass now, you would do it on such a small percentage that it's not a legitimate vote," Halbur said during a commission meeting Dec. 16.

The county will put together an informational campaign to educate voters about the project. As with other campaigns, officials likely will speak to several groups and organizations about the issue.

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