August 2, 2014

Council to decide Tuesday whether to place sales tax on November ballot

City Council members could decide Tuesday whether a proposed 1-cent sales tax will be put to voters on the November ballot.

City Council members could decide Tuesday whether a proposed 1-cent sales tax will be put to voters on the November ballot.

The proposed tax would generate an estimated $400 million over the next five years and would help pay for a new water source, public transit, street maintenance and repair and job development.

The council probably will consider two options for possible ballot language for a sales tax on Tuesday.

The first option would put all four projects together for a 1-cent sales tax. The second option would split the job development proposal from the other three and allow voters to decide on it separately.

“We’re still going to have discussion on Tuesday and it’s by no means a done deal, but I’m fairly comfortable at this point with what I’ve seen,” said City Council member James Clendenin, who is leaning toward putting all four measures on the ballot together.

“The jobs portion of this has been my biggest sticking point because of the incentives that have been proposed. But knowing there is going to be a citizen oversight committee over the economic development portion of the sales tax makes me feel comfortable that the citizens will get the biggest bang for their buck.”

City Council member Janet Miller emphasized that the four issues that would be funded by the sales tax were all pushed by the community.

“While there have been some questions and some opposition, I think we’ve heard from folks that they would like the opportunity to vote on it,” Miller said. “The feedback we’ve had tells us the package is reflective of what we’ve heard from citizens over the past 18 months and what their priorities are.”

She also said the job portion of the measure should be included with the others.

“All four need to be considered as a package for moving Wichita forward. Three of them are solely expense, a very needed expense. ... The complementary piece is the jobs initiative, which interestingly has been the public’s No. 1 priority: jobs,” Miller said. “This is the piece of the package that stands the only chance for actually bolstering our economy.”

Some council members have suggested that the vote could be postponed until the Aug. 12 meeting, giving the council and the public more time to hear details about the projects.

But “that kind of backs us into a corner,” giving city officials less time to correct any errors before the deadline, said City Manager Robert Layton.

The deadline for a question to be placed on the November ballot is Aug. 18.

“I don’t think it has to happen on the 5th,” said City Council member Jeff Longwell. “I think there’s more work to do. I wish there were more quality-of-life issues in there.”

For example, Longwell said, he would like more discussion on things like fine arts development, better baseball facilities, upgrades to the convention center and possibly the Orpheum Theatre.

“There’s a whole list of things in the community but we haven’t even had extensive talk on trying to address those issues,” he said. “People say, ‘We should take care of this first and maybe come back to that,’ but the ‘maybe come back to that’ makes me a little nervous.”

“This needs to be generated by the community. It should not be a council-driven initiative, not a city manager-driven initiative. If we want it to be successful, that’s the way we should look at it.”

City Council member Lavonta Williams said she doesn’t lean one way or the other on the issue.

“Tuesday is probably when I will be able to make that final decision,” Williams said. “I have been comfortable with some of the last components we saw in the four areas. I was pretty pleased with some of the things I saw.”

Other council members did not return requests or were not available for comment on the upcoming vote.

The vote would need a simple majority to be put on the ballot.

The proposed sales tax initiative already faces opposition from a new group.

The Coalition for a Better Wichita officially launched last week and consists of local business owners and citizens who said they did not want to see the issue placed on the ballot.

The council meeting will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at City Hall, 455 N. Main.

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