Streets, internet sales and social services were high on the city’s list concerns discussed with state legislators this year.
City officials met Thursday with local legislators — Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan; and Representatives Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan; Ron Highland, R-51st district; Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan; and Vern Swanson, R-64th district — to voice concerns on several issues at the state and federal level.
Carlin said that the city needed to widen Manhattan Avenue to compensate for existing and future traffic that will be generated when structures for NBAF and the Kansas Department of Agriculture are finished.
City manager Ron Fehr said that the city plans to widen Manhattan Avenue to Kimball Avenue, but that those plans remain in the future.
“I think that needs to happen soon,” Carlin said. “I drive that every day, and there is too much traffic on it now.”
Fehr said that the city has problems just keeping streets repaired since the state cut funding last year. He asked legislators to oppose any bills that would eliminate Kansas Department of Transportation funding, such as T-Works, special streets and highway funding through the state gas tax.
Fehr said that the city receives about $1 million a year from the gas tax. He said that if the state eliminates that tax, then it needs to allow local governments to impose their own gas taxes to make up for the loss.
Fehr also asked legislators keep the special alcohol tax funding that provides prevention and abuse programs, as well as parks and recreation programs that focus on alcohol-free activities.
Commissioners Karen McCulloh and Usha Reddi said that they wanted the state to provide more funding for social services — especially Pawnee Mental Health — or provide funding for an inpatient facility.
Reddi said that social services operate like preventative medicine in that the results are only quantifiable in the long term, not the short term. She said that if the state would fund more social services, it would result in less crime.
Hawk agreed with Reddi, but said that the Legislature generally looks at the short term, and makes some bad decisions based on those numbers.
He gave the example of mandatory drug testing for anyone receiving Temporary Aide for Needy Families and Food Stamps, and for criminalizing veterans who are suffering from PTSD and battle fatigue.
“I’m disappointed that the state should be the lead on those problems,” he said.
Carlin also asked city officials what they thought about taxing internet sales.
Fehr said that the city estimates it loses about $400,000 annually from internet sales. He said that the city would like to reap the revenues and to help support “brick and mortar” businesses in Manhattan, which have suffered on as a result of rising use of internet commerce.
“We’ve already seen some of [the brick and mortar business] failing, and I think this comes too late for some of them,” Carlin said.
She said that the problem with the tax is public perception, that the tax already should be paid —but some consumers think it is an extra tax.
Carlin said that internet sales make up almost nine percent of all sales nationally, and it is time internet-based outlets started paying sales taxes, too.
McCulloh asked legislators to oppose any bills that would create “any more unfunded mandates from coming down.”
She referred to the new concealed carry law that requires local governments to “adequately secure” all local government buildings where concealed carry was prohibited.
The new law did not provide any state funding to help local governments secure those buildings.
Phillips asked for documentation on how the city has filled the gaps created by state funding cuts.
Fehr said that city finance director Bernie Hayen already had those documents and would provide them to all the legislators. Even though legislators empathized with the city, they made no guarantees or promises.
In the end, Carlin tried to sum things up when she said, “There’s no fluff. Anywhere we add funds, we have to cut somewhere else.”