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Community Improvement Districts discussed in Wichita

At yesterday’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, council members approved the start of the process to create two Community Improvement Districts in Wichita. Yesterday’s action sets August 10 as the date for a public hearing.

CIDs are a creation of the Kansas Legislature from last year. They allow merchants in a geographic district to collect additional sales tax of up to two cents per dollar. The extra sales tax is used for the exclusive benefit of the CID. More background may be read in the article Wichita community improvement districts should have warning signs.

In my remarks to the council, I asked the city to consider consumer protection and education regarding CIDs. I noted that just by crossing a street and shopping within the boundaries of a CID, consumers will have to pay higher sales tax. How would consumers know this in advance?

Council member Paul Gray noted that by crossing a street, consumers might enter a different municipality and have to pay more sales tax. While this is true — the neighboring city of Andover is considering a one-cent city sales tax — the Wichita city council can’t control what its neighbors do. But it can control what happens within the boundaries of Wichita.

Gray said that he didn’t want to create community improvement districts and then handicap them with further government regulation. I agree. But the proper way to avoid this extra regulation is to avoid government intervention in the first place by forging the creation of community improvement districts.

But perhaps the most important public policy issue is this: If merchants feel they need to collect additional revenue from their customers, why don’t they simply raise their prices? Why the roundabout process of the state collecting extra sales tax, only to ship it back to the merchants in the CID?

City council members and city staff did not provide an answer to this question.

Gray did not vote on this measure as a family member is employed by the business seeking this CID. Council member Lavonta Williams was absent. All other council members voted to approve the petition and set a public hearing on August 10.

Wichita Eagle reporting on this issue is at Public hearings set on sales tax districts at WaterWalk and Central and Oliver. Wichita Business Journal reporting is at City Council moves forward on two CIDs.

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