Budgets, economic development and even the potential impact of Colorado's new marijuana law were discussed during Tuesday night's "Commissioners on Tap" event at Samy's Spirits & Steakhouse.
The Finney County Young Professionals organization asked representatives of the city of Garden City and Finney County to come share their thoughts on current events and future issues facing local governments.
Representing Garden City were Commissioners John Doll, Chris Law, Dan Fankhauser and Roy Cessna. Finney County commissioners Don Doll and Dave Jones, and commissioner-elect Duane Drees, spoke on behalf of the county.
Doll and Jones said one issue the county is likely to face next year is a trickle down of mandates from the state as the state continues to cut its budget. As those cuts are made, Doll said the county will likely face a demand for services and commissioners will need to decide whether or how much they can pick up the funding slack.
Doll said the choice will probably involve either severe cuts at the local level or raising taxes quite a bit.
Jones said there are things the county must fund — law enforcement, treasurer, etc. But the county is forced into difficulties when the state starts funding services at a certain level and then begins reducing funds. He expects there may be more efforts to find ways to be more efficient and eliminate duplication of services.
When asked what programs the county might cut, Don Doll said they would likely come from social and farm programs, though it may be possible to also "tweak" some of the mandated programs.
Both city and county officials are optimistic about future economic development. Fankhauser said each of the big box stores on the east side of the city underestimated the local market before they built here. Today, they are doing such huge business the city might see record sales tax collections this year, and strong sales tax collections help the city keep property taxes lower.
Fankhauser said the impact of the Menards project, scheduled for completion next year, is expected to spark even more retail development including stores and restaurants. But due to the competitive nature of cities, especially with Dodge City just down the road, the city must keep the names of potential businesses quiet.
"We want to be the regional center, and I think we are. But until they sign on the dotted line we don't talk about it much," he said.
City representatives agreed that housing continues to be an issue.
John Doll said the city is working hard on trying to get rules changed that would allow Garden City to tap into rural housing development grants, which they can't currently do because the criteria is limited to cities under 20,000 in population.
Fankhauser said part of the problem with housing is it has become too expensive for builders to buy land or install infrastructure.
One of the first questions of the night asked the county how Colorado's marijuana law might impact Kansas.
Jones, who spent more than 30 years in the Kansas Highway Patrol before retiring, said as it has in the past, law enforcement will continue to deal with drugs passing through the state. He said it will be interesting to see what the U.S. Attorney General does about it, though he doesn't think anything will change.
"It's still against the law nationally," Drees said. "So that needs to be cleared up before Colorado can enact its law."
Finally, John Doll urged young people to become involved. He said the city has several advisory boards and committees with openings right now.
"When they make recommendations, it weighs heavily on the decisions we make," he said.