The Riley County government has decided not to ask voters to renew a sales tax in November. That decision makes practical sense, for a couple of reasons.
But now it’s up to Manhattan city commissioners to figure out a good way forward. We encourage them to give it serious thought, and soon. Because just giving up is not the best plan.
County commissioners Monday formally decided to forego a sales tax ballot question this fall. In doing so, they pointed to the economic conditions in the community because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they have a very good point. Asking for a tax to be renewed while people are losing their jobs is dicey at best.
Also, we happen to think that the best option for the future is to convert to a city tax. That would raise more money to use for economic development -- building the base of employment here -- which is central to the future of our community. A portion of the money could be funneled to other purposes, including roads, bridges and paying down debt, although we would encourage sticking to a targeted agenda of promoting job growth. It’s too easy to dip into the sales tax money for basic government functions otherwise.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. The main thing is that the tax -- which is already in place but expires in 2022 -- serves a very important purpose. We’re not enamored of taxes any more than anyone else is, but it provides nearly $5 million a year, most of which gets used to attract employers here and to encourage local businesses to expand. If somebody can come up with a different way to generate that kind of cash without a sales tax, we’re all ears.
If the city were to put a tax in place, it would generate another $1.4 million, since the tax would apply to businesses on the Pottawatomie County side of Manhattan. That includes Wal-Mart and nearby retailers. That makes sense, simply from the point of view of equal , and from the point of view of generating more money.
It might very well be wise to wait awhile to ask, since voters in November will still be in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The following November would be pushing it pretty close to the limit, but it could still work, and by then we’d have a better handle on the economic fallout.
We’ve had a countywide sales tax in place to support economic development for two decades. Actually, before that, the city had its own effort. The point is, it has all worked very well -- that’s part of the reason our economy here has sustained itself during good times and bad.
We understand the need to slow down, and we give county commissioners credit here. Now it’s time for the city to make a plan.