Eagle editorial: Cities raising sales tax

06/22/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:25 AM

Cities in south-central Kansas and elsewhere are cranking up the sales tax in an effort to pay for services the best way they know how – by not dipping deeper into the property tax well.

It means sales taxes are going significantly beyond the 6.15 percent statewide rate on receipts at grocery stores, fast-food joints and big-box retailers, further burdening low-income citizens with what is a regressive tax.

But it also means municipalities are feeling more confident after six years of a punishing economy, and doing what they feel they must to advance their communities and invest in their future.

“All cities across the board, in the state, are trying to figure out how to do more with less. That’s primarily what this is all about,” Mayor Marcey Gregory told KSN, Channel 3, about Goddard, which votes Aug. 5 on a 1-cent increase to go toward improving infrastructure and reducing property taxes. If it passes, the sales tax rate in Goddard would be 8.15 percent.

That’s the same as Haysville’s rate as of July 1, thanks to the narrow April passage of a sales tax hike for roads, parks and recreation.

Winfield voters decided in February to raise their sales tax from 7.4 to 7.8 percent starting next month for library and street improvements.

Kingman voted in April to renew a 1-cent tax set to expire this year.

Mulvane voters will decide Tuesday whether to raise sales tax by 1 cent to fund a new $4.2 million library.

Sales tax votes also are in the works in Meade and Herington.

When McCune in Crawford County passed its first-ever 1-cent city sales tax in January, in the wake of a decision to close a local school, a city commissioner’s reaction was: “Praise God.”

The Wichita City Council’s recent advancement of a 1-cent sales-tax initiative toward the November ballot is the biggest example yet of the trend. The specified priorities are all worthy, arguably urgent – securing a future water supply, improving the bus system, ramping up business recruitment and better maintaining streets. But the city has a lot of work to do to overcome skepticism about how current resources are being spent, and especially to sell the proposed $90 million jobs fund.

Residents can have input and learn more at meetings on the sales tax proposal as well as the 2015 budget Monday at the Boys and Girls Club at 21st and Opportunity, Tuesday at Osage Recreation Center, Thursday at Eastminster Presbyterian Church and June 30 at the WATER Center. All meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

Erik Sartorius, the new executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, told The Eagle editorial board that he’s seeing cities “taking steps to right-size” and to “make sure there’s a revenue source for specific needs.”

The picture for cities, as well as counties and school districts, could darken over the next year if the state’s revenues don’t better align with projections. More reliance on the property tax seems unavoidable.

For now, though, a lot of the pressure is on the sales tax. Those who pay it should pay attention, and be heard.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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