Voters hear sales tax need, meet candidates at Lyndon town hall meeting

Lyndon residents were offered an opportunity Saturday to learn more about what they’ll be voting on in the April 2 election. About 20 citizens at a town hall meeting at Lyndon’s community center heard about a vote that could add a 1/2-cent sales tax, and were introduced to city council candidates.

Lyndon City Administrator Kim Newman spoke about the sales tax vote, noting the tax had been defeated in the November election. That vote was 247 no votes to 176 yes votes.

“Why are we doing it again?” Newman said was a question she had heard.

“A half-cent sales tax will raise $55,000 a year,” she said. “To Lyndon that is a lot of money.”

She said the council decided to put the issue on the ballot again for two reasons – concern that the city did not sufficiently inform voters in the last election about how the extra funds would be used, and questions about reports that voters from outside the city limits had voted in the last election.

As part of an information campaign about the sales tax, the city had distributed postcards to residences in the city, outlining how the extra tax would be used. Listed were road and bridge repairs, park improvements, sewer and water improvements, economic growth and city projects, and property tax reduction.

Newman said that although the city already has a one-cent sales tax, that money is earmarked only for street improvements. During each of the past few years the fund has been exhausted on street projects.

“$120,000 goes in (to the city’s coffers) and then it goes out for streets,” she said.

She said recent inspection of the city’s 13 bridges and culverts revealed that two are in poor condition, one on Ninth Street between Ash and Birch streets and another on Fourth Street between Ash and Cedar streets. Two other bridges, on Seventh Street between Ash and Birch streets and on 10th Street between Monroe and Jackson, were rated in fair condition, but would require repair or replacement in the near future. Newman said minimum estimate of the cost of repairs to the two poor bridges is $156,000. Replacing all four would cost an estimated $479,000.

With the sales tax increase, Lyndon’s sales tax rate would still be less or the same as sales taxes charged in other nearby cities, Newman said, presenting a chart that showed if someone purchased a pizza from Casey’s General Store in any nearby city, the price would differ only by pennies. She said if someone wanted to avoid paying the half-cent sales tax by driving to a town that had less sales tax, a purchase of more than $3,000 would be needed to have a tax savings that would offset the cost of driving 20 to 30 miles.

“If they’re already shopping here, they’re not going to drive to Topeka or Ottawa to avoid paying it (increased sales tax),” she said.

Newman said the sales tax could also offer property tax relief to those who live in Lyndon, because sales tax is collected from everyone who purchases goods in the city. She said more than 8,000 people pass through the town daily during the summer, with many on the way to local lakes.

Offering the Dollar General store as an example, Newman said, “People who shop in that store are not just people who live in Lyndon.”

“There’s only one way the city can lower the (property tax) mill rate, that’s raising revenue,” she said. “Property is the only thing we have to tax if we don’t have sales tax.”

Newman also spoke about the city’s goal of being included in the Safe Routes to School program, a federal program administered by the state that provides sidewalks and other features to ensure children can walk to school safely. The program offers up to $250,000 to cities to build safe sidewalks.

She said that amount “pretty much buys you four blocks of five- or six-foot wide sidewalks.”

Additional sales tax could also help fund infrastructure to be added to that project, if the city is included in the Safe Routes program next year.

She said another vote on the sales tax issue would not cost the city, because it is being held in a regularly scheduled election.

Sales tax charged in Lyndon is now 8.3 percent, with 6.3 percent of that state tax, and one percent each for Osage County and the city.

Also during the town hall meeting, Lyndon Mayor Kay Jones, council members and candidates introduced themselves. Council members Doug Watson, Darby Kneisler, Wayne Howard are candidates running for election to council seats. Lyndon resident Chris Cole is also running for one of the three council spots. Howard and council member Brandon Smith were absent from Saturday’s meeting.

Jones announced she had not filed to run for mayor due to her and her husband’s plans to eventually move away from the community, but no definite date had been set for their move. Since no one had filed to run for mayor, Jones said voters could consider her as a write-in candidate, but if elected, she would need to resign when the time came for her to relocate. She encouraged anyone interested in serving as mayor to begin a write-in campaign.

For the questions about possible ineligible voters in the last city election, Newman said staff had worked with the county clerk’s office to try to ensure that non-residents would not be allowed to vote in the city’s election.

Citizens also heard from area resident Steve Zerr, who told of the city’s plans to develop a community garden in the area immediately south of the community center. Zerr, who is on the committee planning the community garden, said residents are being recruited to become involved in the garden.

“It’s about community involvement,” Zerr said. “Just come and be part of it and let’s grow this together.”

 Photo: Lyndon citizens, city staff and elected officials gathered Saturday at the community center to discuss the April 2 election and the city’s upcoming projects.

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