City sales tax could be on the April ballot




Garden City voters may be asked to reauthorize a half-cent sales tax, which has been used to pay for transportation improvements and property tax stabilization, for another 10 years.

On Tuesday, the Garden City Commission appeared to favor putting the issue on the April 2 ballot, but put off a decision until city staff prepares the language to include in the ballot question. The current sales tax is set to expire in October 2015.

While it seems early to talk about something that wouldn't expire for more than two years, City Manager Matt Allen said, the April 2 city election is the last regular election the issue can be put on the ballot without incurring additional expense.

Talking about it now and getting a decision now from voters would give the commission time to discuss options before dealing with the 2015 budget in the summer of 2014.

Voters first authorized the tax in 1994 to address road repair and maintenance, then reauthorized it in 2005 for another 10 years to help reduce the city mill levy in addition to financing transportation improvements. This April's election would be the last time to put a reauthorization on the ballot without a special election before adopting the 2015 budget.

In 2012, the half-cent sales tax generated $2.75 million, the property tax equivalent in 2013 of 16.97 mills.

"That represents a significant portion of the city's general fund. Granted, part of it is devoted to transportation projects ... but a majority of that is offsetting what would otherwise fall on the property tax payer," Allen said. "Not to say you'd raise property taxes that amount, but it would reduce services."

The city has until late February to put the issue on the April 2 ballot.

Commissioners favored using sales tax to help lower property taxes.

"It's certainly a lot cheaper than raising property taxes on individuals. With sales tax, we have a lot of people outside the community buying things," Commissioner Melvin Dale said.

Mayor David Crase added that if the city can keep its share of local property taxes lower, it might provide a bit of an incentive to businesses and industries looking to relocate into the city limits.

In other business Tuesday:

* The commission approved a resolution that reiterates support for the Windsor Hotel historic rehabilitation project.

Finney County Preservation Alliance and GC Windsor Developers LLC asked the city to renew support for the project so the Alliance can apply for a housing tax credit from the Kansas Housing Resources Corp.

The resolution also asked the city to commit to providing 30 public parking spaces, cooperation on applications for Neighborhood Revitalization tax rebates, possible creation of a community improvement district and other applications that may be needed for other tax credits and incentives for the project.

While the resolution indicates the city supports the project, there is no money or fiscal responsibility included right now.

"Basically, all we're doing, so to speak, is blessing the project. As far as a financial commitment, there isn't any at this point," Commissioner Dan Fankhauser said.

With an estimated $12 million price tag, the Windsor Hotel Historic Rehabilitation Project proposes 23 affordable senior living apartments, space for retail shops and offices, meeting areas, a restaurant and bar, and banquet facilities.

The 93-room hotel was built in 1887 by John Stevens, one of Garden City's founders.

"The project hasn't changed since we've been here before from a structural standpoint," Developer Ross Vogel said. "This is a requirement in order to submit the tax credit application at the state level. Basically, it's in response to what the community said they want in this project, which is senior housing."

In January 2012, the developers were unsuccessful in getting tax credits from the KHRC for the project, but Vogel believes it will be more successful this time around.

"One of the reasons we think we have a much better application is last year our tax credit request was really high. We knew it was really high, but felt the merits of the project would win the day for us. And at the end of the day, it didn't. By reducing it, we know we have a much stronger application this year," he said.

*Commissioners approved rezoning about 25 acres of land from an agricultural district to multi-family residential district for a proposed residential subdivision development generally located near 2900 Campus Drive. The project would include eight apartment buildings, 16 town-homes and 10 duplex lots developed in phases. The first phase would include two 24-unit apartment buildings on the southwest portion of the property.

The applicant will be required to plat the property and have an approved development agreement prior to final plat. The city is working with the applicant to address drainage, water, sewer, solid waste, electrical services and phasing for the project. A site plan also will need to be provided, stamped by an architect or engineer registered in the state.

*Commissioners approved a request from Polly Witt, USD 457 health coordinator, to proclaim the week of Jan. 27 through Feb. 2 as Health Awareness Week. It includes a request for the mayor to read the proclamation at an all-school assembly on Jan. 28 at Abe Hubert Elementary School.

* Garden City Regional Airport was recognized for having no accidents last year by receiving the 2012 department safety award; the fire department received the most improved safety record award by reducing accidents from 7 in 2011 to 4 in 2012; and Kristi Newland, general curator and deputy director of Lee Richardson Zoo, was recognized for an individual safety award.

*Commissioners approved an ordinance that updated the city's building codes from the 2003 code to the 2009 code. Kaleb Kentner, community development director, said every three years the International Building Codes are updated to accommodate for new technology, materials and safety hazards.

* Newly appointed Commissioner Melvin Dale took the oath of office and took his seat on the commission.

* Commissioner Chris Law announced his intention to run for re-election this spring. People interested in running for City Commission have until noon Tuesday to fill out forms and pay a $45 filing fee with the City Clerk's office to appear on the April 2 ballot.

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