By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
From 1994 through 2009, Liberal has been able to make $50 million in improvements one penny at a time.
The 1-cent sales tax was originally implemented in 1994 after a group of local citizens formed the Focus on the Future Committee and proposed a plan for local improvements after visiting with local citizens on what enhancements they would like to see in Liberal.
On May 6, the committee will once again have a discussion with the public on what projects they would like to see completed over the next 10 years. The current tax will expire in 2011, and the Focus on the Future Committee is looking for ideas to put on the ballot in November.
“We want to invite the public to come to the meetings and have input,” Focus on the Future Committee member Rozelle Webb said. “We want the people to know that this is not raising taxes, just maintaining our current level. This is important to our town.”
The list of completed projects is significant.
There have been road improvements on 15th Street that widened the road from two lanes to four, covered the open drainage ditches and added walking paths with rest areas. The South Fire Station was built. The Pancake Race Track was paved and framed with brick. The Baseball Complex was constructed. There was an overlay of U.S. Highway 54. The Kansas Avenue Streetscape improvements were made. Drainage was improved to prevent flooding in neighborhoods and businesses on South Kansas Avenue.
Most recently, Adventure Bay Family Water Park was completed and open to the public.
Other projects currently under way include Light Park improvements, a community building at Mahuron Park, Western Avenue resurfacing, reworking Six Points, and more.
All of these were either funded by the 1-cent sales tax, or sales tax money was used to leverage grants to extend the benefits of the fund.
According to Focus on the Future Chairman Stan Wilburs, an additional $10 million was raised by matching funds with the 1-cent sales tax.
“These funds were leveraged from Kansas Department of Transportation, the state and other agencies,” Wilburs said.
Without having the seed money available, Liberal would not have been able to get the grant money from the state.
And, Wilburs said the City of Liberal has done a good job of growing the money.
“We have earned more than $1.5 million in interest,” he said.
Would all of the projects have been discarded if Liberal did not have the 1-cent sales tax? Wilbur said no.
“Some of these projects would have had to be done, but the city would have been forced to raise property taxes to do them,” he said. “The big advantage of the sales tax is that 30 to 40 percent of it is paid by people from outside of Liberal. Payments are not limited to property owners.”
Without the 1-cent sales tax, Webb said Liberal would be lagging.
“The town would not be as beautiful and updated as it is today,” she said. “We would still have flooding problems. Housing would be worse.”
Projects like the downtown streetscape only used $200,000 of sales tax money but were matched by $1 million from the state.
An investment of $43,000 in a water line helped get the cotton warehouse located here. Another investment of $65,000 in utilities helped Gardner Cryogenics to choose Liberal and bring about 10 jobs.
The project has also helped local residents with a graffiti removal program, a senior housing repair program, facade improvements, and self-help housing assistance.
One project that was a high priority has yet to be completed — a community recreation center.
While it has not been built, extensive work from private groups and city staff has been completed to make sure that when ground does break, the community gets the best facility for the investment.
That’s why community input will be vital at the scheduled public meetings that will take place beginning at 6 p.m. May 6 at the Depot.
“As an advisory group, we will take the public’s recommendations to the city commission,” Wilburs said.