While some cities in the Wichita area offer a subsidy to build a house, the city of Halstead is trying something new: incentives for moving there, or for starting work or school there.
The incentives aren’t cash – but they’re close. They’re something called Chamber Bucks and can be spent only in Halstead, for city and school expenses and at most of the town’s businesses.
They start with a $25 “teaser” for showing up at City Hall to sign up for utilities or at the school to enroll a child and range up to $1,500 for a new resident with a new student and new job in town. Throw in a newly built house and the amount rises to $2,500.
That’s considerably smaller than the $10,000 and $15,000 in cash that Park City is offering toward the sale of building lots that lead to new homes, but it spreads the purpose of the incentives far beyond home construction.
“You hear about incentive programs all the time, but this one is unique,” said Bill Charlsen, president of the Halstead Chamber of Commerce. “It has enough teeth in it to move somebody to come here or bring their children here.”
Halstead has worked to adapt economically since the former Halstead Hospital closed in 2002 and the Hertzler Clinic soon after, taking with them hundreds of high-paying jobs and a sizable chunk of the local tax base. More residents in the community now commute to jobs elsewhere, and this might help persuade some to return, say locals.
City administrator J.R. Hatfield came up the the idea a few months ago after RedGuard, a Wichita company that makes blast-resistant containers, bought the closed-down Skyline Homes plant in Halstead last year. RedGuard promised to invest in the building and create 60 jobs, but it also received a 100 percent tax abatement for 10 years.
Hatfield said he was wondering how to make up the $22,000 in property tax per year that Skyline would no longer be paying on the vacant plant.
“All of a sudden I got this bright idea,” Hatfield said.
The committee that is overseeing the program now has about $10,000, and has commitments from the city, school district and chamber for another $28,000 if needed.
The idea has gotten a good reaction from local business owners.
“We got a lot of houses for sale, great schools, good parks, swimming pools. Our Main Street’s very active with grocery stores, hardware stores. We’re very lucky,” said Lonnie Martin, owner of Martin Machine and Welding. “For a town of 1,800 we’re doing pretty good. I’m glad they’re taking the initiative not to let it slip.”
It’s too early to know whether this will work, city leaders said.
Hatfield said he’s talked to one woman who was thinking about building a house in Halstead and went ahead after learning about the incentives.
City leaders expect local businesses to mention it to their employees who live outside of the area and to suggest that it might be worthwhile to move in. They also are pointing toward a job fair on May 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Halstead High School.
The program will largely pay for itself with increased tax revenue, Hatfield said.
“If this works, everybody wins,” Hatfield said.