Council Can't Decide What To Do With Sales Tax Extension

TOPEKA (WIBW) -- With the vote to extend the 1/2-cent sales tax in Shawnee Co. looming, Topeka City Council members were tasked with coming up with language for the ballot question to match the county's proposal.

But, after a three-hour marathon of votes, they're still left with no official okay from the city hall side.

What happens now is still up in the air.

Council members talked about making changes to the resolution dubbed "Attachment A." The revision was a $240.9 -million tax revenue plan offered by Councilman Nathan Schmidt (8th District). Earlier rounds of council votes added on in-fill sidewalks and guaranteeing improvements to South Topeka Boulevard, in a stretch between 15th and 21st Avenue. (Pricetag $4.9 million for that.)

A dozen more roadway projects were placed on Schmict's proposal, along with $10 million to support the Zoo's Master Plan, and a $3.2 million dollar commitment for the City's Bikeway Master Plan.

But, with the addition of those two items, the council couldn't come up with a way to make up the gap in funding. Suggestions including letting Shawnee County take care of the county trails system Michelle de la Isla failed in her repeated efforts to slash funding for Go Topeka from its original $75 million, down to $60 million, and using the extra money for the other two projects. She and Deputy Mayor Denise Everhart expressed concerns that Go Topeka had extra money remaining in its reserves, a reported $9 million left over.

It was more ammunition in the battle on whether the city should priioritize economic development, or quality of life issues and the capital projects that go with it.

Later on in the 3-hour marathon debate, new member TJ Brown suggested a cut in funding for the Expocentre, but that too, was rejected.

City Manager Jim Colson reminded the council the interlocal figures from the tax take were only projections, which could well be $10 million higher than the targets, and that they could approve the interlocal agreement while dealing with funding issues as they come up in the future.

Arguments had already been made that locking in half-cent sales tax proceeds for 15 years is just too long a commitment from the city.

"Some of my constituents don't even like if we look ahead 12 years," Elaine Schwartz told her colleagues.

They did come up with a plan allocating $247 million, within $6 million of matching the resolution to the interlocal agreement with Shawnee Co., the deal that contains the spending figures.

But by the time they were done, they had also rejected City Manager Jim Colson's original resolution, which included sidewalks with no funding, and they ended the debate with no solution.

Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler, who was in the audience at Tuesday's meeting, said the county can still proceed without the city's approval.


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