HUMBOLDT — The city will decide soon whether to ask Humboldt residents if they would support a one-cent sales tax to pay for street projects.
Humboldt City Council members were asked about the matter Monday at their regular meeting by City Administrator Larry Tucker, who noted the city’s consolidated street fund has been nearly depleted.
More than $400,000 has been used for various street and bridge improvements in Humboldt since 2007 — funded entirely by fuel tax revenues — with only an anticipated $42,000 left in the bank after the city is finished renovating a portion of East Bridge and Central streets this year, Tucker noted.
The problem is that with the higher price of gasoline in recent years, many residents in Humboldt and abroad have curbed their driving habits or purchased more fuel-efficient cars. The net effect is that the city is bringing in less fuel tax revenue each year.
Humboldt budgets between $50,000 and $60,000 in materials for street repair, aside from any improvement projects, and is expected to bring in $45,000 in fuel tax revenues, Tucker said.
Even with the lower revenue, the city’s streets and public works committees have recommended stepping up and developing a regular street maintenance schedule, Tucker said.
And as some recent projects have revealed, doing solely chip seal work is insufficient for some streets, Tucker said. The city must continue to look at proper water drainage in some neighborhoods as well, he added.
“One option we have is to not do anything,” and let some streets continue to deteriorate, Tucker said. “But I’m not sure that’s what the public wants.”
Tucker noted that a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters two years ago to fund upgrades to the Humboldt Municipal Pool brings in about $40,000 annually.
Council members Sean McReynolds and Sam Murrow recommended the city plan a public forum or two to educate the public about street repairs before putting a sales tax vote on the ballot.
Scheduling an August vote would give the city only about 30 days to come up with a plan of action for voters to consider. Having the vote in November was more appealing, they said.
Council member Vada Aikins wondered whether voters would support another sales tax hike, particularly since the state is in the midst of approving its own sales tax increase. If approved, Humboldt’s sales tax rate of 1.25 percent would be higher than both Iola’s and Chanute’s and could prompt consumers to shop out of town, she said.
Murrow, likewise, wondered if the public would support a tax increase in a struggling economy.
“But this economy isn’t going to last forever,” Councilman Dan Julich replied.
Council members asked Tucker and the Streets Committee to develop a maintenance plan to put in front of voters, who then would decide whether to approve the sales tax increase.
COUNCIL members agreed to pay the architectural firm of Zingre and Associates of Fort Scott $1,200 to begin working with engineers from Shafer, Kline and Warren to study the climate control systems at what will be the new city hall building. The engineers will receive $4,400, bringing the price tag to $5,600.
“We’re going to be using this building for the next 30 to 50 years,” Tucker said. “We want to make sure it’s as efficient as possible.”
Zingre has given a preliminary study of the building to Tucker with three options: to retain the existing boiler and chiller but replace other parts of the system at a price of $30,000; to replace the chiller and retain the boiler at a cost of about $62,500; or to replace much of the existing equipment at a cost between $64,00 and $74,000.
A consultant from Comfort Contractors in Chanute recommended replacing the chiller with a new multi-unit system and condenser at a price of about $80,000.
The city will have about $65,000 to work with, Tucker noted, because of a $70,000 grant made available from the United States Department of Agriculture. The city already is using a $200,000 USDA loan for other improvements to the building, which formerly was occupied by Emprise Bank.
Aikins noted that until the systems are looked at more closely, the Council does not know how extensive the renovations must be.
“Unless we’re talking major efficiency savings, I’d be for us doing this as cheaply as possible,” Murrow said.
In a related matter, Council members agreed to use Community National Bank for any temporary financing necessary to begin the renovations after Tucker explained that the USDA funds may not be available until later this year.
The temporary financing comes at a 3.5 percent interest rate. Any interest would be paid by USDA, Tucker said.
THREE CHANGE orders to Humboldt’s water line replacement project were approved, at a cost of about $9,900. Crews will replace a water line at two locations near Charles Street as well as line and valve near New York and 13th streets. The combined footage of the new lines is about 1,000 feet.
The change orders were endorsed by engineers from Shafer, Kline and Warren.