Politics & Government

Sales tax proposal splits candidates for Sedgwick County Commission

The idea of replacing Sedgwick County’s portion of property taxes with a sales tax drew divergent reactions Thursday from the two District 4 candidates for county commission.

District 3 Commissioner Karl Peterjohn has proposed putting a sales tax to voters in November.

Using a sales tax would be regressive and would punish those who could least afford it, Melody McCray-Miller, the Democratic candidate for the seat, told members of the Kansas Republican Assembly at a candidate forum.

“Any sales tax is a regressive tax,” said McCray-Miller, a former state representative and former county commissioner.

Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Richard Ranzau, a Republican who is a former physician’s assistant, said he agreed with Peterjohn that voters should get to weigh in and that a sales tax would be a better way to fund county government.

“Property tax is the most tyrannical form because if you do not pay that tax, they will take (your home),” he said.

He also said that visitors to the area from outside the county would generate income for the county.

McCray-Miller, a small-business owner and former public school teacher, acknowledged that property taxes are “the most dreaded, hated tax that any of us pay.”

But she said replacing property taxes with a sales tax would hurt too many people. “It would definitely be steeped in regressiveness, and that’s a real challenge for me,” she said.

Peterjohn estimated that replacing the county’s portion of property taxes would result in a 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-cent sales tax. The county’s mill levy this year is 29.3 mills, which represents about a quarter of a property owner’s total tax bill. A mill is $11.50 annually on a $100,000 home. Peterjohn has not advocated replacing other taxing entities’ mill levies with a sales tax – just the county’s. The majority of the property taxes that residents pay go to schools.

McCray-Miller said she would favor removing the sales tax for food. Ranzau said he was against doing so, saying there are too many areas where people could ask for exceptions.

McCray-Miller and Ranzau took turns answering questions from the crowd at Cathy’s Westway Cafe about how they would represent the north-central part of the county, including Park City and Valley Center.

She noted that she had spent years working with people with different viewpoints than her own.

She said she wanted to again represent the people of her former district and “work as a collective with the other commissioners” on issues such as workforce development, job creation, community engagement and community safety.

Ranzau, finishing his first term as a commissioner, said his goal “is the same as always. We need to keep government in its proper place. If you want more prosperity, then you need less government.”

He said he sees his role as a commissioner to look for efficiencies and challenge how the county spends its money.

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