Commission Considers Future Of Countywide Sales Tax

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Facing decisions on how to ask voters to renew a half-cent sales tax, Shawnee County Commissioners heard Thursday about the positives it's brought to the county's infrastructure.

Shawnee County Public Works Director Tom Vlach said revenue from the tax funded replacement of more than 80 bridges, plus major road improvements, including widening of Wanamaker and Croco roads and replacement of the Topeka Boulevard bridge.

With the tax expiring in 2016, commissioners must decide what an extension would fund. A portion of the revenue is earmarked for economic development, while the rest is pitched to voters as funding specific projects, such as roads and bridges.

Kansas Expocentre General Manager H.R. Cook made his pitch for improvements to commissioners. Cook says a minimum $8.4 million in improvements are needed in the next 10 years, simply to maintain status quo. He says that includes items like a complete parking lot replacement, new roofs and renovation of locker room facilities. He says basic improvements up the price tag to $11 million, with a total wish in the facility's long-range plan coming in at $60 million.

Cook says the Expocentre used to be the state-of-the-art facility in the region, but has fallen behind. Improvements he listed included wider seats, expanded concourse areas and improved concession facilities. He also displayed plans for expanding Exhibition Hall to connect to Heritage Hall, a stall barn area, adding connections between all the Exocentre complex buildings and improving handicapped accessibility at Landon Arena.

Cook says people in the industry have estimated the facility could attract seven or eight more shows a year if improvements are made.

"We know we won't be taking care of everything, but we need to make a decision on what to do with this building," Cook said. "It's a gem of Shawnee County. We have no other mass gathering facility other than the Expocentre."

Buhler says the information is helpful as commissioners craft the future of a sales tax extension request. She says roads, bridges and the Expocentre at the biggest-ticket items falling under the county's responsibility.

"Whether we solve those with a countywide sales tax or other means, they are our responsibility and we'll have to continue discussions on how to address this," she said.

Elections Commissioner Andrew Howell says wording for a ballot question must be approved and submitted by June 2, 2014 to put the issue to vote during next August's primary.