County officials assert that they did inform city about sales-tax inquiry

By Burk Krohe

Riley County officials said Thursday they did inform the city of questions submitted to the state attorney general’s office regarding the ongoing sales-tax discussion, including the county’s request for a ruling on whether the city could alter the use of collected funds from economic development to debt reduction.

The assertion by county officials was contrary to the tone of discussion at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

The main disagreement between the two entities over the renewal of the tax rests on the interpretation of the original ballot question Riley County residents passed in 2002. County officials believe they’re obligated to put the same ballot question in front of voters, meaning a similar countywide, half-cent sales tax. City officials disagree.

The county recently solicited an opinion from the state attorney general on the matter. However, at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting city officials and commissioners seemed surprised by the part of the document the county submitted. It involved two questions, one asking whether the county is obligated to forward the same question to voters and one asking whether the city’s funds must be restricted to economic development purposes as they are on the 2002 tax question.

“We never had any discussions about asking the attorney general that,” Commissioner John Matta said Tuesday.

County officials disagreed at their meeting Thursday. Clancy Holeman, county counselor, said the county told the city of the content of its request to the attorney general. Commission chair Karen McCulloh said the county was very clear with the city at several intergovernmental meetings about what it intended to ask.

“There was quite a bit of discussion at the City Commission meeting that seemed to be the opinion included a question that they had no notice of, but they did,” Holeman said. “I don’t know how to be any clearer about it than that.

Holeman said the second question is necessary because if the attorney general rules the county must put the sales-tax question back on the ballot, the county and city need to know how much flexibility they have with the language.

“It (the second question) follows naturally from the first,” Holeman said.

Holeman and McCulloh said the conflict could be avoided if the city defined debt relief as an economic development purpose in the question. Then, essentially, the attorney general’s opinion wouldn’t handcuff the city.

Holeman said it was not his intent to “cloud the issue,” but said “there’s no legitimate basis for surprise.

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