August 16, 2014

1-cent sales tax could help fund innovation facilities

Among the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to build the proposed Innovation Campus at Wichita State, at least some funding could come from the 1-cent sales tax issue before voters on the November ballot.

Among the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to build the proposed Innovation Campus at Wichita State, at least some funding could come from the 1-cent sales tax issue that will be on the November ballot.

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

Perhaps the most debated portion of the proposed sales tax is the jobs development fund, which would generate about $80 million and add 20,000 jobs, according to city officials.

Some of that jobs development portion could go toward workforce training and infrastructure at the Innovation Campus.

“In order to support that infrastructure, there are sewer needs, and we’ve talked about doing something on 17th Street to accommodate development plans,” said Robert Layton, Wichita city manager.

“We’ve only talked in concept, but it could mean the addition of turn lanes, traffic signals, redevelopment activities like streetscaping improvements – this to tie in to the master plan. It would not just be for the university but for the property next to it to encourage spin-off development,” he said.

The key to success is infrastructure, Bardo said. Part of that could include high-speed Internet, sewer and water plus roads. It could also include new buildings and graduate stipends.

“Wichita has potentially a big problem with its water supply that will affect economic development, and Wichita has not had the opportunity to make an investment in creating the ecosystem that supports the diversification of the technology base of the city,” he said.

If the sales tax passes, a committee of public- and private-sector individuals will help decide which entities get funding – but only after calculating the return on investment the community would get for its dollars. That committee would release public reports and hold public meetings while reporting to a citizen oversight committee, officials say.

Layton and other city officials also are working with WSU, economic development groups and other consultants to develop a strategic economic development plan that would focus on the expansion of industries that could utilize skill sets the Wichita workforce already has but in different ways.

“We’re talking about retooling and retaining to take advantage of those opportunities,” Layton said. “The idea is to create jobs by building on the skills of existing business.”

For example, a machine shop that has focused on aviation in the past could retool and retrain staff to be able to manufacture things like heating and cooling units to support its aviation work.

“I think it’s a great plan. It’s exactly what we need as far as economic resources in our community to drive jobs,” said Gary Schmitt, chairman for the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, one of the groups working on the local strategic economic development plan, about the Innovation Campus.

“WSU is a great partner, and GWEDC, the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, the city, county, WSU and other groups in the community will be able to work together to grow our economy and increase primary jobs in our community,” he said.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

Tax estimates

The current projected estimates for sales tax collections over five years:

$250 million for water supply

$80 million for job development

$39.8 million for public transit

$27.8 million for street maintenance and repair

Source: City manager’s office

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