County commissioners made one last appeal to the city Thursday to consider an interlocal agreement that would increase the county’s share of revenue from the upcoming half-cent sales tax question. Both entities also took steps forward on the proposed bridge pier sign project at their intergovernmental meeting.
Once again, county commissioners and city commissioners didn’t see eye to eye on the half-cent sales tax issue, which is to be voted on in August. Karen McCulloh, county chair, reiterated that the county would like an interlocal agreement guaranteeing the county a certain portion of the revenues. However, City Commissioners Wynn Butler and John Matta said the city had already offered more productive alternatives that the county rejected. The two commissioners were in the 4-1 majority that voted against guaranteeing the county a higher percentage. Mayor Jim Sherow, who was the dissenting vote, felt the city could work with the county.
The so called “roads and bridges” tax is a half-cent sales tax passed in 2002 for a period of 10 years. An interlocal agreement tied to the expiring tax guarantees the county 42 percent of the sales-tax revenues. The city has used its portion of the revenues from the existing tax for economic development purposes, while the county has used its portion for road and bridge improvements.
County officials presented what they characterized as conservative projections for a period from 2013 through 2022. The projections were calculated assuming a split without an interlocal agreement. Under that scenario, the county would receive 34 percent of the revenues, the city would receive 63 percent of the revenues, and smaller towns throughout the county would receive 3 percent of the revenues. Those percentages are determined by a statutory formula based on population and assessed valuation.
Those calculations translate to $28 million for the city, $15.9 million for the county and $1.4 million for the smaller cities over the 10-year period.
“We’d like to see the city get behind us on this,” McCulloh told city commissioners of the interlocal agreement.
McCulloh and County Commissioner Alvan Johnson said reduced revenues for the county that might result if no interlocal agreement is arranged could be detrimental to road and bridge projects. Johnson noted the county’s list of projects for the next 10 years is estimated to cost about $20 million, about $4 million more than the county’s share of the projected tax receipts.
“If this doesn’t pass, it will be somewhat doubtful if the county will rush to take care of those roads,” McCulloh said. She said higher county property taxes could result.
City officials contended that the county could get more money if it would drop its insistence on a vote on extension of the current tax and instead allow the city pursue a city-wide tax. They say such an approach would pick up more revenue because it would include the Pottawatomie County portion of Manhattan, an area that does not pay the current county tax.
“I think the difficulty is when we spoke before, we had an alternative that would have raised more money and would have kept the county whole,” Matta said. “I would like you to reconsider that alternative.”
The county’s position has been that it promised to put the expiring tax before voters again. McCulloh said the county feels an alternative city-wide tax would not be in line with that pledge.
Sherow said a city goal-setting session will take place Friday at which commissioners will raise the issue. He seemed to believe, however, that the rest of the commissioners would remain resolute in their opinions.
City and county officials were able to agree on steps forward concerning a project to erect a sign that says “Welcome to Manhattan” on the east K-177 bridge pier. Bart Thomas, of Thomas Outdoor Advertising, brought the project to the city. Thomas envisions the sign having a distinctive art deco design and font with repeating lines and edges to match the style of the piers.
The sign would also have an LED display, similar to many bank signs, which would advertise community events. It would be 12 feet tall and 35 feet long, and the LED display would be 3 feet tall and 23 feet long. Thomas said the sign would cost between $44,000 and $46,000. He said that estimate includes materials and time.
Other than a holdup due to a one-year moratorium on billboards in the county, the main issue slowing progress was confusion over the ownership of the pier. After consultation with the Kansas Department of Transportation, it turns out the pier is in KDOT’s right of way and therefore doesn’t technically belong to the city or county.
Thomas said he has been in talks with KDOT and said they’re slightly concerned that allowing the sign could “open a can of worms” where other cities throughout the state would request welcome signs in KDOT right of way. However, he said they’re willing to work with the city.
Thomas said the next steps would be to put together a formal proposal, which the city and county will sign off on, and meet with KDOT officials. No date was set for that meeting.