Riley County approves adding sales tax question to November ballot

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Jul. 16—In November, Riley County voters will consider a countywide sales tax for road and bridge projects.

Riley County commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved adding a question to the Nov. 2 election ballot, asking whether voters would approve a 0.2% sales tax for road and bridge projects.

The current 0.5% countywide sales tax, which is shared by the city and county governments, comes to the end of its 10-year term on Dec. 31, 2022. If voters approve the proposed 0.2% rate, it would come with a shorter term of five years and take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Instead of renewing the tax together, the Manhattan city government broke away from the county for its own tax. Manhattan voters last November approved a 0.5% citywide sales tax measure, and the city government will keep all the revenue for public infrastructure, debt reduction and economic development.

The sales tax rate in Manhattan is currently 8.95%. Voters approving the countywide sales tax would increase the rate to 9.15%.

Commissioner John Ford said the original proposal of a 0.25% rate was a bit steep, but the revised rate would "allow us to keep doing what we're doing" in terms of funding road and bridge projects.

"This is the fairest approach we can take at this time," Ford said. "I'm okay with the 0.2%."

Commissioner Kathryn Focke said she thinks the 0.2% rate will be "a little easier for taxpayers to approve" than the 0.25%.

If the question is approved by voters, all sales tax proceeds could only be used for road and bridge improvements, including maintenance and construction. These projects would be outside of the Manhattan city limits.

Earlier this spring, county staffers in the Road and Bridge Advisory Board developed a list of projects in anticipation of a 2022 sales tax program. It includes culvert and bridge replacements. Crews originally constructed many of the structures between the 1920s and 1940s. The projects also would include asphalt overlays and general new construction.

The total cost of projects over 10 years was originally estimated to be about $18 million with the sales tax program generating about $1.8 million annually. County officials are working on new estimates for the 0.2% rate.

The county plans to use about 42% of the potential tax for construction projects, 35% for bridge, 14% for asphalt overlays and 9% for culverts.

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