Archive for Thursday, August 4, 2005

Sept. 27 vote scheduled for sales tax

August 4, 2005

Johnson County Commissioners agreed last Thursday that voters would decide Sept. 27 if a 1/4-cent sales tax that provides money for the county's school districts should be extended for three more years.

In doing so, commissioners reminded voters and school district representatives requesting the extension that the tax originated from county authority and that the county could use the revenue the tax provides.

Commissioners agreed last month to put the extension before voters when officials from Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley school districts requested they extend the tax. Last Thursday was determined to be the last day the commission could get a referendum on the ballot this year and have time to have proper paperwork in place so there would be no interruption of revenue when the current taxing authority expires Dec. 31.

Approval of the referendum would make the county's portion of the tax available to school district's for special education or technology by way of economic development grants (the county's cities would continue to receive 36 percent of the revenue collected from the tax). The revenue shared with school districts would be capped at the amount the districts receive in 2005, estimated to be $17.8 million. The county would receive the estimated $2.2 million the tax is expected to collect from 2006 through 2008 greater than the cap.

De Soto USD 232 is estimated to receive $1.87 million from the tax during the three-year term. The city of De Soto receives about $100,000 in revenue annually from the tax.

County needs were much greater than that leftover share, Commission Chairwoman Annabeth Surbaugh and Commissioner Doug Wood agreed. The county has $454 million in capital projects proposed for the next five years, Wood said. More than half of that total, $284 million, is for public safety projects that include a jail expansion, juvenile justice building, crime lab, adult residential center for community corrections and a $175 million new courthouse.

Those projects carry with them added operating expenses totaling $1.8 million in 2006 to $31.6 million in 2010, figures from the county budget office show.

Wood said without the sales tax authority proposed for the school districts -- the last remaining to the county -- it would take a substantial mill levy increase to pay for the capital improvements and their related operational costs.

Wood suggested language be added to the referendum question that would either sunset the tax or dedicate its revenue to the county use should the Legislature act in the next session on the more than $400 million the Kansas Supreme Court says is due state schools.

Other commissioners said they understood Wood's concern, but thought such language would endanger the referendum's chance of passage by complicating issues for voters. Commissioner David Lindstrom's motion to extend the tax for five years with the county collecting all the revenue after three years failed to receive a second for the same reason.

As for future county needs, Blue Valley Superintendent Tom Trigg said the districts were aware of the commissioner's concerns. The plan to reserve revenue for county uses above that collected in 2005 was seen as a way for the county to get its "foot in the door" in regards to asking voters in the future for the authority to use the tax for its own needs.

Surbaugh said she appreciated the gesture because it reminded residents that the authority was granted by the county commission.

De Soto's representative on the commission, John Toplikar, was the lone vote against putting the extension before voters. Toplikar said the tax wasn't a true economic development tool, but "an attempt to give local districts more money." No new programs had been started with the grant money, he said.

Commissioner John Segale of Shawnee disagreed. Although no new programs were started with the money, it helped assure existing programs weren't cut, he said.

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