By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
The grassroots effort to get public input on projects that would enhance Liberal began Thursday night at the Rock Island Depot.
A group of about 30 local residents attended the meeting to listen to a presentation on projects that have been completed since the sales tax was implemented in 1994 and to share projects they would like to see added if the tax is renewed for another 10-year period.
“The sales tax is very important, especially today,” Focus on the Future chairman Stan Wilburs said. “It is harder to get state money. Sometimes Topeka forgets about Liberal. An example of that is Western Avenue. That’s a $4 million project, and we got zero from KDOT.”
Because of the 1-cent sales tax, the city was able to make the necessary improvements to the road, and over the life of the 1-cent sales tax, a number of roads were improved in Liberal, including 15th Street, Eighth Street and more according to a video presentation.
Since 1994, the 1-cent sales tax has funded $50 million in enhancements.
“Why can’t we make the sales tax permanent?” Elizabeth Irby asked.
“Legally we can go for 20 years,” city manager Mark Hall said. “But it has to have a sunset. Ten years is customary. It gives the opportunity to review the progress.”
Wilburs also said that voters would want input.
“It’s hard for the taxpayers to vote forever on anything,” he said.
James Gutzmer asked if there was any discussion on a recreation center.
“Has anyone figured this out?” he asked.
Wilburs explained that there has been extensive study on the project over the years.
Wilburs also shared that $1.1 million from the current tax has been set set aside for a recreation center.
Irby asked if a percentage could be dedicated to the recreation center from the tax if it is renewed rather than the previous method of percentages for specific categories.
“I don’t think anyone is set on those percentages,” Wilburs said. “I think the city would consider a different method. It might be better to have a ballot without the percentages.”
Another project that was of importance to the attendees was sidewalks in the neighborhoods in north Liberal.
City Public Works Director Joe Sealey explained why some neighborhoods had sidewalks while others didn’t.
“We don’t have city easements in the newer parts of town,” he said. “When those developers built those neighborhoods, they wanted more green, so they did not allow for a public easement for a sidewalk. The older areas of town had more easement, and so we have been working on improving those sidewalks. If we wanted sidewalks in those other neighborhoods, the city would basically have to purchase the homeowner’s front yard.”
Sealey added that the sidewalk crew has completed about 8 miles of sidewalks over the past few years.
City commissioner Joe Denoyer added that the city was about to start a sidewalk from 15th Street to Tucker Road, and there is currently a plan under way to make a sidewalk that surrounds the entire city.
The conversation then ballooned into a plethora of ideas, ranging from public transportation to business incubators to a city pond.
Hall encouraged the crowd to share whatever they would like to see.
“If you think it will make Liberal better, we want to hear it,” he said. “That’s what we want. We want your ideas.”
Suggestions from economic development incentives to trimming trees were shared as Focus on the Future Committee member Rozelle Webb wrote down all the ideas.
Once all the meetings have taken place, the Focus on the Future Committee will compile the information and present it to the city.
The meetings will continue at 6 p.m. Tue., May 18, at the Rock Island Depot. The public is encouraged to attend.