Two Manhattan city commissioners are concerned the citywide mask ordinance is deterring people from spending money in Manhattan.
Commissioners Mark Hatesohl and Wynn Butler said they think people are going to Junction City because it does not have a face covering ordinance. Manhattan has been under a mask ordinance since July.
“Junction City is doing quite well picking up the business,” Butler said. “I just see that as a real interesting bump in the road. And it’s a self-inflicted wound on our part.”
Hatesohl said he spoke to the city manager at Junction City a few weeks ago. The manager told Hatesohl that Junction City has had its highest sales tax collection over the last three months.
“People are flocking to Junction City,” Hatesohl said. “The Fort Riley soldiers can’t go to Aggieville, so they got to go eat and drink somewhere. Are we making ourselves too much of a disadvantage, even against our close neighbors?”
In June, Maj. Gen. John Kolasheski, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, barred soldiers from Aggieville “until further notice” after the district had multiple coronavirus outbreaks.
The Kansas Department of Revenue’s local sales tax distributions reports show that Junction City’s revenue increased in recent months compared to the same time last year while Manhattan’s has mostly decreased.
From July to September, Junction City’s sales tax collection went up 13.5% in 2020 compared to the same time last year. Sales tax revenue went up all three months going up from $1.86 million in 2019 to $2.1 million in 2020.
In 2019, from July to September, Junction City’s sales tax collection went down 27.5% compared to the same time period in 2018. During those three months, sales tax revenue decreased from $2.5 million in 2018 to $1.8 million in 2019, or a decrease of $707,717.95.
During that same time period, Manhattan went down 2.1% in 2020 compared to 2019. The city’s sales tax revenue went down two of the three months.
The revenue dropped from $4.03 million in 2019 to $3.95 million in 2020.
Hatesohl said he thinks the perception to the public may be that Manhattan is a dangerous place to visit.
“If we really want to get people to start showing up, we’ve got to somehow let people know that, hey, we’re no more dangerous,” he said. “We may not be safer than the rest of the world, but we’re no more dangerous than the rest of Kansas, and it’s still a good idea to come hang out with us and take whatever precautions you want.”
However, mayor Usha Reddi said the mask mandate may make people feel more comfortable going into businesses, actually attracting visitors to Manhattan.
“I think there’s also a lot of people that are coming because of the mask mandate,” Reddi said. “I hear a lot of people saying, ‘Well, I’m not going go to such and such store or do something’ because they don’t have certain precautions in place.”
Allen Dinkel, Junction City’s city manager, hasn’t mentioned the lack of a mask mandate as a reason for increased sales.
Last month during a Junction City Commission meeting, Dinkel noted that the economy suffered last year because many soldiers had been deployed from Fort Riley.
Manhattan’s mask mandate is meant to help stop the spread of the coronavirus; the ordinance expires at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31.
The city lost three meetings during the third quarter of 2020, said Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Hibbard provided a third quarter CVB update Tuesday to the Manhattan City Commission; she also announced the $4.99 million expansion on the Manhattan Conference Center is finished.
Butler said he thinks the city should determine how to move forward and still hold conferences.
“If people want to come to a conference and sit six feet apart and not wear a mask and it doesn’t bother them,” Butler said, “Why should it bother the city commission? And if it’s costing the city money and we just put millions of dollars into a conference center, I think it needs to be relooked. Because there should be some different set of rules to give some people a little bit more freedom of maneuver.”
Hibbard said some groups don’t want to wear masks while others don’t want to be the source of a possible coronavirus outbreak.
“Right now, for some of those, they are making a decision to go elsewhere,” Hibbard said. “I will also say though that meeting planners are somewhat hesitant, certainly are very cognizant of the need to wear a mask. But they also don’t want to be that site, that group, that organization that gathered together and a spike came as a result of it. So it’s kind of twofold.”
City officials Tuesday provided a 2020 budget update to the commission.
“Our revenues are about where we need them to be,” said Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager. “We’re 75% through the year and we’re just under 75% at revenue. The expenditures are where we are really in better shape. We only expended about 63% of our budget, 75% through the year.”
Savings by the city have helped Manhattan wade through the coronavirus pandemic, Hilgers said.
“We’ve done our due diligence,” Hilgers said. “We have saved. We have held back on travel, hiring and a lot of programs. We’ve saved that money. We’re going to be cautious going into the next three months. And that first quarter of (2021) will be the same caution.”
Hilgers said the next three months of the year are usually the highest sales tax months out of the whole year.
“When you look at our receipts, those next three months will be vital,” Hilgers said. “I don’t anticipate they’ll be at the levels they have been in the past. So our savings for the first nine months of the year will more than likely going to be drawn down. And you’ll see those revenue streams likely not consistently stay and get 100% of our anticipated revenues.”
Hilgers said Dennis Marstall, assistant city manager, has been working hard on securing Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funds for the city.
“That could be a difference maker, and more than likely will be,” Hilgers said.