City Commissioner Sue Hack - who is expected to be elected mayor at tonight's commission meeting - plans to lobby for a new citywide 1-cent sales tax.
During her one-year term as mayor, Hack said she would push for a 1-cent, 10-year sales tax to pay for a new library, new recreational facilities, economic development initiatives and infrastructure projects.
"We have to decide that the kind of things we want, the quality of life we want in this community are going to cost money," said Hack, who plans to discuss the idea at tonight's meeting. "I'm not comfortable in raising property taxes to the extent that we would need to."
Any new 1-cent sales tax, which would raise $12 million to $13 million per year based on current sales, would require approval by city voters. Hack is not sure when a sales tax election should be conducted.
A 1-cent increase would push the city's overall sales tax rate to 8.3 percent, which would make it the highest citywide rate in the state. However, four cities - Olathe, Mission, Roeland Park and Ellsworth - have special taxing districts with rates above 8.3 percent for many of their major shopping areas.
The sales tax proposal may spark concern among several retailers.
"My feeling is that a sales tax increase would be bad for my business," said Dan Hughes, an owner of Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Mass. "So many of the products we sell are available online with no tax, and lot of times no shipping.
"If you put an extra 1 percent on what I have to charge, it just gives people another reason to think about buying it somewhere else."
Hack said she's aware of the concerns and understands it's a regressive tax, especially in Kansas because grocery purchases are not exempt from sales tax. But Hack said she sensed property taxes were becoming a larger burden for many people.
"Rising property taxes are crippling to people on fixed incomes," Hack said.
Unlike a previous sales tax proposal made by Mayor Mike Amyx in mid-2006, Hack's plan does not include a specific provision to reduce property taxes. Instead, Hack said she thought her sales tax proposal would make it less likely that property taxes had to increase in the future.
She also said that by devoting a quarter of the new sales tax to economic development issues, she's hopeful it will help bring new jobs and businesses to the community, which could reduce the tax burden on existing residents.
Hack, who is a retired teacher and works part-time for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said additional money is needed for economic development to more aggressively market the community to prospective businesses. Work also needs to be done to convert the former Farmland Industries site and areas near the Lawrence Municipal Airport into new business parks.
The other projects the sales tax could fund would be large-ticket items that Hack said the city likely couldn't do with its current revenue stream. They include:
¢ A new Lawrence Public Library. The most recent estimates for a new downtown library and parking garage have been pegged at $30 million. Several commissioners have said they support the idea of expanding the current library or building another one to replace the 35-year-old facility. But so far, commissioners have not settled on how to pay for the library or where it should be built downtown.
¢ New recreational facilities. A citizens group - Partners for Lawrence Athletics and Youth - has been studying the feasibility of creating a recreation complex that could include new ballfields and gym space to accommodate youth league sports. Neither a price tag nor site has been determined for that proposal, but the group is expected to soon release results of a survey polling the public on the need for new recreational facilities.
¢ Major infrastructure projects. The condition of city streets has been a major point of discussion for commissioners during the last two years. The city is rebuilding a portion of Kasold Drive from Clinton Parkway to Bob Billings Parkway, at a cost of about $6 million. That is the most expensive street project the city has undertaken on its own. Engineers have said similar projects will be needed in the future, but commissioners have struggled with how to pay for them.
10-year time frame
The last time local voters approved a new sales tax was in 1994, when they passed a countywide 1-cent sales tax to fund a new jail, health department building, property tax relief and parks and recreation projects.
Unlike that sales tax, which is perpetual, Hack said this one should be written in a way that it automatically will expire after 10 years, unless voters approve it again at the end of 10 years.
"This will probably take a rather massive education effort," Hack said of a sales tax election. "We'll have to let people know what we want to have in terms of quality of life, and also what the consequences are of not doing these things."
Hack is expected to take over as mayor from Amyx, who will stay on the commission. Each year, the commission elects a mayor to serve a one-year term.
Commissioners traditionally have selected the vice mayor to become the next mayor. If tradition holds, Mike Dever - the top vote-winner in last week's election - will be elected vice mayor at tonight's meeting. That would put him in line to serve a one-year term as mayor beginning in April 2008.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.