ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
“The biggest risk may be in not taking one, because in 10 years Marion will be different one way or the other,” Larry Reiswig, Marion city commissioner, said Monday night.
He was helping preside at a hearing designed by the city to inform the public about a 0.75 percent sales tax proposal for industrial development on the April 3 ballot.
Max Hayen, mayor, Jim Crofoot, commissioner, Dennis Nichols, city administrator, and Susan Cooper, development director, also spoke to a small crowd of a dozen persons about the need for Marion to act immediately to finance development of Batt Industrial Park.
The park includes 50 acres of city-owned property with lots ranging from 2.2 acres to 5.0 acres.
Cooper has said in recent weeks that location of a manufacturer to Marion is immenent if the city completes the park. She said identity of that company isn’t as important as having the park ready, because inquiries are coming in regularly. But it’s difficult to locate a business without proper facilities.
Nichols said he wouldn’t be as excited if inquiries had continued at the same rate they did for more than two years, but in the last six months they have greatly accelerated, with Cooper now talking to about 11 different companies.
Jerry Kline asked: “Why are they asking about coming to Marion? Do we have something here, or are they wanting a free ride?”
Cooper said the answer to that is “location, location, location.” She explained that the location of Marion near U.S. highways 56, 77 and 50, combined with the rebuilding of K-150 over the next two years, is changing perception of the city to that of a good major-corridors location.
She said companies also are valuing small communities more because of personalized services and the knowledge they will be cared for.
Cooper said annual retail sales in Marion average $12.6 million, which would generate $94,500 in retail sales tax revenue at a 0.75 percent rate.
Of the total sales, Crofoot provided figures that $3 million is generated by his company, Western Associates, in sales outside of Marion, which would generate $22,500 of the revenue.
Cooper estimated another $3 million in sales goes to non-city residents such as rural citizens, lake residents and visitors, generating $22,500 more annual revenue.
That would leave $6.6 million in sales generated from Marion residents with $49,500 in revenue.
The current sales tax rate is 5.9 percent. Most goes to the state, a small amount comes to the county, and none to the city, Nichols said.
A positive vote on the city tax request would bring the local rate to 6.65 percent.
Nichols said current rates in other cities are 6.4 at Abilene, 6.9 at El Dorado, 6.65 at Salina, 5.9 at McPherson, 6.4 at Emporia, 6.9 at Manhattan, 6.9 at Cottonwood Falls, and 6.4 at Herington.
He said neighboring Hillsboro is at 6.4 percent sales tax and additonal rates on motels is frequently cited in the state for its commendable use of taxes for industrial development.
Nichols said 229 cities in Kansas have city or county taxes to collect.
Hayen noted he has worked with property taxes most of his life, and he finds the sales tax more equitable and easier to collect.
Crofoot said a sales tax also shifts more burden away from Marion residents.
Reiswig said he thinks a sales tax is probably fairest because everyone shares in it, while only a few carry the property tax.
He said assertions the sales tax wouldn’t be necessary if the city had accepted an offer for a regional landfill from Waste Connections, Inc., aren’t true because the landfill would have taken at least three to four years to generate income.
Crofoot said there were “gross errors” in editorials in the Marion County Record concerning the assertions because a potential agreement with Waste Connections only allowed $100,000 in up-front money for the city’s legal expenses, with possible additional money coming only after closure of the county’s old landfill and purchase of KC Development.
Jess Richmond asked if this was the proper time for the city to make this kind of investment, with many manufacturers initiating cutbacks and layoffs.
Hayen and Cooper both agreed that Richmond’s assessment of the economy appeared true, but noted that companies tend to regroup, change, and then move forward.
Pat Patterson said that if Crofoot was willing to take a risk with Western Associates that a higher tax could affect his business, then he was willing to see Marion take a risk.
Crofoot noted that his father’s willingness to take a risk had directly contributed to establishment of Marion Die and Fixture and Marion Manufacturing, companies that are now mainstays of the Marion economy.
Richmond voiced discouragement that every time something comes up to develop Marion, there are always persons against it, threats of lawsuits and divisiveness.
Harvey Sanders said: “My feeling to all those who say the town doesn’t grow is that it won’t grow if you don’t help it. Susan can try to bring in industry. But I can promise you, if you don’t help it, nothing will happen. A sales tax is not a property tax, and won’t cost us that much more.”
Nichols outlined tax increases for various amounts of purchase. For example, 65 cents of sales tax would be paid instead of 59 cents of tax on a $10 purchase, an increase of six cents.
Nichols said if more income is generated than is needed for the Batt Park, it might be used to complete development in the Light Industrial Park.
Cooper said it should be kept in mind that each manufacturer or distributor added would mean more money distributed throughout the community enabling industrial bonds to be paid faster, and increasing Marion’s financial stability.
Rocky Hett said if a landfill were allowed in the community, the jobs it would bring also would distribute money throughout the community.
Nichols called on those attending the meeting to share their understanding with neighbors because “when people understand, they get excited about it.”
Crofoot added, “Don’t believe the nay-sayers.”