A decade ago, Riley County voters recognized the importance of job creation and public safety. They approved a half-cent sales tax to support efforts to attract new employers, to help existing companies expand and to build and maintain roads and bridges.
We urge voters to renew that commitment this election. Job growth and modern infrastructure enhance economic development prospects, and modern roads and bridges make getting from one part of the county safer and more enjoyable.
Make no mistake, many of the county’s roads — including some in the City of Manhattan — are deteriorating. Too many roadways are out of date and one in five of the bridges and culverts in the county need to be replaced. Moreover, more traffic and heavier loads — welcome indications of growth — also accelerate the deterioration. Unfortunately, making sure roads and bridges are safe and up to date is expensive — too expensive for the county to afford without a property tax increase unless this sales tax is renewed.
The city’s share of the tax revenue is estimated at $2.7 million a year. Sixty-five percent of that — about $1.7 million — will go toward economic development incentives such as loans, grants and facilities, with the goal being to attract companies that offer high-quality jobs. Infrastructure projects, which are important to existing residents as well as potential employers, include parks, well-lighted streets and parking lots as well as other amenities.
The remaining 35 percent of the city’s revenue — about $1 million — will be set aside for property tax relief. City officials say shifting $1 million to property tax relief would save the owner of a $200,000 house $46 a year.
Although that commitment differs from the city’s commitment in 2002, when all of the tax revenue went toward job creation and other economic development measures, there is ample merit in bolstering the city’s infrastructure and in easing the property tax burden.
Although the sales tax imposes a disproportionate burden on low-income residents, the effect of this half-cent is minimal. It adds to just a nickel for a $10 pizza, 50 cents to a grocery or department store bill of $100. And it’s worth noting that voter approval wouldn’t increase the sales tax; it would maintain the present level.
Also, unlike property taxes, sales taxes are paid not just by permanent residents but also by visitors to our community. That’s true whether they come for dinner, an afternoon of shopping, an overnight stay or athletic events like Saturday’s KSU-Texas Tech football game.
Manhattan and Riley County have benefited in numerous ways from the present tax. We believe renewing it will help extend the progress of the last decade. The payback on the small investment is significant. We encourage you to vote “Yes.”