Good Luck

September 19th, 2019

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


There will be a discussion for the next two years about the 1-cent sales tax and its impending renewal. It will be important that we all know the facts about the tax and to be a part of the discussion on not only the future of the tax but the future of our community.

Before the last city commission election, it would have been difficult for me to support the renewal of the tax.

At that time, the fund was not focused on the community’s priorities. The Focus on the Future Committee had no relationship with city staff or elected officials, and several projects that were never discussed publicly were being funded.

Since that time, we have seen a change in the Liberal City Commission and city management.

I have waited to see if that would change anything in relation to the 1-cent sales tax.

I can confidently say that it has.

The last correspondence we received from the previous city manager when asked about attending a Focus on the Future meeting to get an update was simple — if we wanted to know anything, we could come to a city commission meeting and ask during public comments.

The former manager was replaced with Calvin Burke, and he has attended each monthly meeting, giving us updates on how the city is using the tax and also seeking input on future projects.

Burke also responded to requests from the Focus on the Future Committee to remove salaries from the use of the 1-cent sales tax, and the city has made great strides in doing just that.

Burke has also been open about the challenges the city faces, and how the 1-cent sales tax has been vital to addressing key needs.

One area we see a massive effort being made is in drainage. With ongoing updates from the city, the Focus on the Future Committee is more aware of the city’s needs and the city staff is more aware of the public’s concerns about the use of the sales tax.

Not only does Burke attend the meetings, but City Finance Director Chris Ford has also been attending the meetings to provide insight on city finances as well as listen to the concerns of the community through the Focus on the Future Committee members.

There are also two city commissioner who sit in on the Focus on the Future meetings — Mayor Connie Seigrist and Commissioner Ron Warren.

There is a willingness to not only listen to the concerns of the public but also to insure that those concerns become a matter of public policy with the current commission.

I have felt more confident on how the 1-cent sales tax will be used moving forward.

But as with anything, priorities change, communities change, and we are no exception.

What may have worked nine years ago when the sales tax passed may not work today.

The Focus on the Future Committee is currently reviewing the structure of the 1-cent sales tax and visiting several local groups and organizations to get input on the sales tax and what can be done to make it a better tool in the future.

There will be public meetings on this topic this summer, so watch for dates and times so you can come and share your input as well.

In watching discussions about the sales tax on social media platforms, there is also some misunderstanding about the 1-cent sales tax.

Many believe the 1-cent sales tax was passed to fund the school bond.

There was an additional half-cent sales tax that was passed for the school bond, but that is separate from the 1-cent sales tax most commonly known as Focus on the Future.

When the school district proposed the construction of five new schools at the cost of $127 million, there were three funding sources for that bond — property tax increase, state matching funds and a half-cent sales tax. The voters approved the bond and the half-cent sales tax with 76 percent approval.

That  half-cent sales tax will generate about $1.8 million per year which keeps the burden off of property taxes. And about half of that, or almost $1 million, comes from those who live outside of Liberal every time they shop and eat here.

But the 1-cent sales tax does not fund the schools. Currently, the 1-cent sales tax is broken into five categories: 1. Streets Drainage and Capital Improvements, 2. Economic Development, 3. Crime Prevention, 4. Beautification and 5. Housing.

Those categories are being discussed right now and may change to meet the needs of the residents as they continue to share insight on how they would like to see the tax utilized in the future.

No one likes taxes, but no one wants to live in a community that can’t improve itself without putting an undue burden on property taxes.

The 1-cent sales tax allows everyone to contribute to making Liberal a better place, and by producing $3.5 to $4 million per year, those outside Liberal contribute about $2 million to help us make Liberal a better place.

Without the 1-cent sales tax, we lose that $2 million injection, and we lose contributions from those who do not own property.

Watch for opportunities to provide feedback about the 1-cent sales tax in the coming months, and please provide your feedback.

The only way to make the 1-cent sales tax work for all of us is to get your input so that a plan can be presented that represents your wishes.

Remember, the 1-cent sales tax keeps our property taxes lower while providing a tool to help make Liberal a better place to live, work and play.

No one likes taxes. But if we want other people to contribute and not add to our property taxes, the sales tax is the best alternative.

And remember, the 1-cent sales tax won’t increase what we already pay. We have had the 1-cent sales tax for 25 years. That means we’ve improved Liberal with an investment of about $75 million. Imagine if that had to come from property tax alone.

Make sure you understand the importance of the 1-cent sales tax and why your input is vital to its future.

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