Amid some public scrutiny on social media of yard signs encouraging Finney County residents to vote for the .3-cent sales tax hike that would sunset in 2033, County Commission Chairman Lon Pishny told Holcomb City Council members on Oct. 11 that the signs were paid for by County Commissioner Bill Clifford using his personal funds.

The sales tax measure will be on Tuesday's Finney County election ballot.

The signs erected throughout Finney County read, “Vote YES! Sales Tax For Our Community’s Future!” and in small print say, “Paid for by Bill Clifford M.D.” Still, social media users have questioned whether the signs are paid for using taxpayer money.

City Manager Matt Allen and County Administrator Randy Partington verified that no city or county funds were used to finance the signs that Clifford says were created in response to a desire by private groups that stand to benefit directly from the sales tax increase.

The two groups interested in getting the signs out in the public were Sand and Sage Rifle and Pistol Club, which currently uses the deteriorating gun range managed and owned by the Garden City Police Department, and Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo.

The interlocal sales tax agreement between the city and county would pay for urbanized improvements to Jennie Barker Road, ongoing improvements to Lee Richardson Zoo, construction and operation of an 11,068-square-foot indoor shooting range intended for use by local law enforcement and the public, and construction, operation and maintenance of a 15,061-square-foot fire station on the city’s east side for use by the Garden City Fire Department, Garden City Police Department and Finney County EMS.

The sales tax hike, if passed, would take effect April 1, 2018, and sunset after 15 years. The increase would yield about $2.15 million annually to fund the balance of each project, which has been estimated at $18 million total.

“As you’re well aware, government resources can’t be used to promote this,” Clifford said. “There being a vacuum, I decided to fill it, because I thought if groups are interested I’d go out and spend my own money to do it. I just think it’s important enough to get this vote through and continue to make progress on things for which we don’t want to use property taxes — that it was important to get some promotion out. It was a way to provide groups a chance to have signs.”

Mark Skoglund, executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, said that while the KGEC can’t directly give information on a specific case, the Kansas Campaign Finance Act “limits certain uses of campaign funds, but that particular statute is not about the expenditure of private funds.”

The KGEC is charged with administering, interpreting and enforcing the Campaign Finance Act, as well as laws relating to conflicts of interest, financial disclosure and lobbying regulations.

Pishny said no one has questioned the commission on the use of the signs, adding that his comments to the Holcomb City Council were made to “make sure people knew that Bill had taken money out of his own pocket and that it wasn’t a county-sponsored sign, and that he was doing that as an individual taxpayer.”

“We just appreciate everybody that has registered getting out to vote on Tuesday,” he said. “We just think it’s important, not just for the sales tax issue, but also for the other ballot issues… We would hope they would support the sales tax issue and help get some things funded, but we’re going to respond however the voters respond at the polls on Tuesday.”

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.