The use of sales tax proceeds in Wichita

Must the City of Wichita spend its share of Sedgwick County sales tax proceeds in a specific way?

Sedgwick County collects a one-cent per dollar retail sales tax. The county keeps some, then distributes the rest to cities. On Facebook, a question arose regarding how Wichita may spend its share of the sales tax proceeds. Couldn’t some funds that go towards building Kellogg be rerouted to, say, fund the operations of Wichita’s public library system?

A former city council member argued that “As it stands, Wichita cannot spend its allocated portion of that sales tax on anything but roads and bridges.” I posted that there was a Wichita city ordinance that said how the sales tax is to be spent in Wichita, and that ordinance could be modified or canceled. The same former council member admonished me to call a specific person in the city budget office and “he will clarify for you that the City Council doesn’t have the ability to override the Sedgwick County sales tax referendum language.”

I looked for the referendum language. The document is available in Sedgwick County’s election document system. The canvass of the special sales tax election was held on August 2, 1985, and this was reported:

The returns of the election were presented to the Board as received from the official conducting the election on the following proposition:

SHALL THE FOLLOWING BE ADOPTED?

A proposition to enact a countywide retailers’ sales tax in Sedgwick County, Kansas, in the amount of one percent (1%), such tax to take effect on October 1, 1985, pursuant to K.S.A. 1984 Supp. 12-187.

The language of the referendum is silent regarding how the tax revenue may or may not be spent.

Certificate of canvass, portion. Click for larger.
There are, however, other considerations. One, according to Mark Manning, the city’s budget officer, is that the city has borrowed money, with proceeds from the sales tax pledged for repayment.

Second, there is a Wichita city ordinance, number 41-185. It pledges half the city’s share of the sales tax towards property tax reduction. Then, it states: “… and pledges the remaining one half of the one percent (1%) of any revenues received to Wichita road, highway and bridge projects including right-of-way acquisitions.” This was adopted on August 25, 1992 and replaced an existing ordinance that said the same.

The 1992 ordinance also holds this, in section II: “It is the specific intent of the Governing Body of the City of Wichita that the City of Wichita continue to use the tax revenues as outlined in this ordinance and that this pledge be continued as a matter of faith and trust between the people and the present and future Governing Bodies of the City of Wichita.”

We often hear that half the city’s share of the sales tax is pledged for Kellogg construction. In actuality it is pledged to “Wichita road, highway and bridge projects.”

But really, it isn’t even pledged to that. The pledge is in the form of a city ordinance. It may be changed at any time at the will of four council members.

Yes, the ordinance says the city intends to continue using the tax revenues in the same way “as a matter of faith and trust.” Unfortunately, that trust has been destroyed in many ways, one being council members who tell us things that aren’t true.

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