Lee proposes sales tax plan

Allen County Commissioner David Lee seeks a solution to rising property taxes by asking voters to approve an additional half-cent sales tax to fund ambulance services.

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Local News

March 27, 2024 - 2:26 PM

Allen County Commissioner David Lee Register file photo

Allen County Commissioner David Lee believes there is a solution to rising property taxes and it will come in the form of an additional half-cent sales tax. Both Lee and Commissioner Bruce Symes attended a regional commission meeting several months ago in Columbus, where the idea was presented at a roundtable discussion. 

“The discussion led to how these two other counties are paying for their ambulance,” said Lee. “They both said they are using the sales tax. One of them said they even have a reserve.” This was a lighbulb moment for Lee.

“The state of Kansas allows counties to have up to a one-cent sales tax,” Lee said.

Currently, Allen County levies a quarter-cent sales tax to fund Allen County Regional Hospital. The tax generates roughly $600,000 a year. Lee proposes tripling that tax in order to fund Allen County’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS).

Lee’s ulterior goal is to lower property taxes.

“The county took a big hit, property tax wise, with EMS,” he said. “Right now, we’re paying $1.95 million toward EMS each year.” To help lighten the load, the county receives insurance reimbursements for ambulance transports to the tune of $600,000 to $800,000 each year. 

If the county’s quarter-cent tax is generating $600,000 for the hospital, Lee reasons that an additional half-cent sales tax could generate $1.2 million for EMS. “We would almost, if not completely, close the gap on that $1.95 million total with this sales tax,” he said. “We need to drive down these property taxes, and this is a way to do that.”

Lee noted that county residents would be the ones deciding the matter. “It’s got to be put on the ballot in either August or November,” he said. “If county residents say ‘we’re not interested,’ then we won’t go down that path.”

“With property taxes, the people who own property in Allen County are shouldering that burden,” he said. “With a sales tax, anyone who comes into Allen County — regardless of whether they live here or are just passing through — helps pay for the ambulance service.”

With the state park coming to fruition in the near future, Lee pointed out this would bring people into the county who will make purchases here. “That’s going to take the burden off of all of the Allen County residents,” he said. “The tourists would help shoulder the burden.”

The idea of a sales tax has not come without criticism. Lee noted that someone had told him it was “regressive in nature.” I don’t see how it could be, he said. 

Taxes that are uniformly applied regardless of income are considered regressive because they take a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from middle- and high-income earners. 

The sales tax that accompanies a refrigerator, for example, is less of a burden for a wealthy customer than for someone struggling to make ends meet.

“I have talked to a dozen merchants and only one wasn’t interested,” said Lee. “What I thought was really impressive was that one merchant said they thought it would be a good idea as long as two things occur. First, the dollars are used specifically for ambulance services. Secondly, we would draw down property tax as best as we could by using the money.”

To Lee, those two conditions make sense. “If we raise $1.2 million with the sales tax, we drive down our property taxes by $1.2 million,” he said.

So, what’s next? Lee hopes to spend another three to four weeks talking to residents and finding out what their perceived pros and cons would be with the sales tax. “What I think may be a great idea, they may think otherwise,” he said. He encourages Allen County residents to reach out to him with their opinions or attend commission meetings to voice how they would feel about an additional half-cent sales tax. “I’d love to hear their thoughts,” he said.

 

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