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River project cost: $74 million

By CHRIS HUNTER Salina Journal

Salina residents could decide in November whether the city’s sales tax should be increased by 0.25 percent to help pay a portion of the $74.27 million needed for the Smoky Hill River renewal project.

City commissioners approved the river project master plan at their meeting Monday. They also asked staff to work up a potential question to place on the November ballot that would ask city residents whether the sales tax should be increased by 0.25 percent for 10 years. To be put on the ballot, the question would have to be ready by Aug. 30.

City commissioners will decide next week whether to place the question on the ballot.

“When you look at other river projects, the local taxpayers have stepped forward first and other funding followed,” said Troy Vancil, president of Friends of the River Foundation, after the meeting. “I don’t think you are looking at a $74 million public project at all.”

If Salina residents voted to increase the sales tax, the city’s sales tax rate would increase from 8.2 percent to 8.45 percent.

Martha Tasker, Salina’s director of utilities, estimated the 0.25 percent sales tax increase could bring in between $25 million and $28 million over 10 years.

Primary phase costs $27.7M

The primary phase of the master plan would cost $27,736,000 and include concrete-lined sedimentation basins, temporary culverts under South Ohio Street, multiuse trails systems from Bill Burke Park to Walnut Street, land acquisition, rehabilitation of the Western Star Mill Dam, a concrete-lined channel and a riverwalk from Western Star Mill to Walnut Street.

The rest of the $46.5 million would go toward building a series of bridges, trails, utilities, dams and other projects along the Smoky Hill River channel.

Commissioner Luci Larson said she was worried that the increase in the sales tax would be too much for people to handle. She also said she’d like to keep the property tax levy the same over the coming years if a sales tax is passed.

City Manager Jason Gage said guests from out of town currently produce about a third of the sales tax money brought into the city, which would help cover the costs of the project.

“I think any time you increase taxes, it isn’t a good time to do it,” Gage said after the meeting. “A sales tax increase is much better than increases to property taxes and other forms of taxes.”

Gage said the city will help in the education process if the question is put on the ballot.

“When we get out in front of people and show them what we are doing, it will enamor them to the project,” Vancil said after the meeting.

Vancil said Friends of the River will look for project funding at the local, state and federal levels.

Vancil said Congressman Jerry Moran’s office had pointed out potential grants.

“Our expectation is the city is not footing the entire project,” Mayor Aaron Peck said after the meeting. “There will be private donations and grants. We think our funding sources will be varied and count for a significant portion of it.”

Larson said the cost of the project gave her heartburn.

“There are always concerns about price tags,” Peck said after the meeting. “Projects cost money and big projects that have big results come with a price tag. It is something that really enhances the quality of life, attracts business, attracts growth and will be the biggest capital improvement in the city in many, many years.”

Despite her concern, Larson said she was in favor of the project.

“I want to go kayaking in the river before I collect Social Security,” Larson said.

Dennis Lauver, president and CEO of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce, and Andy Martin, United Way executive director, said they felt the project was good for the city, and they supported the efforts.

Vancil said the city commission’s support was “another step in the process.”

“We keep putting one foot in front of the other,” he said. “It’s like throwing a pebble in a pond and watching everything ripple out.”

nReporter Chris Hunter can be reached at 822-1422 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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