Voters in Hutchinson to decide future of longstanding quarter-cent sales tax

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) – A quarter-cent sales tax has been in place in Hutchinson since 1993, and it has passed every time it has been on the ballot ever since.

A decision to renew that sales tax another five years, beginning in 2019, will come on Tuesday, when voters in Hutchinson head to the polls.

Mimi Meredith is the Vice President of Development for the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.

She says the sales tax plays a major role in their operations, as well as, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum: Strataca.

“For Strataca it’s 14.6 percent of their operating budget, and for the Cosmosphere it is 16 percent of our operating budget,” said Meredith.

Meredith says without the sales tax, they’d be left to operate without that portion of their operating budget.

She said that 16 percent accounted for about $740,000 of their budget last year.

James Lowe, a Spokesman for the Vote No on More Sales Tax group, says some residents in Hutchinson feel the sales tax just doesn’t serve a valid purpose anymore.

“The issue is people are tired of paying this extra tax for the Strataca and for the Cosmosphere, it has nothing to do with anything else,” said Lowe.

City Manager John Deardoff says, right now, that quarter-cent sales tax goes to four main areas.

“47 percent of it goes for our street program, 33 percent to the Cosmosphere, 15 percent for property tax reduction, and 5 percent to the Strataca, the salt museum,” said Deardoff.

Deardoff says that accounts for about $2 million.

He says the majority of the sales tax goes to the annual street maintenance program, which oversees the care of the 275 miles of roads they are responsible for.

Deardoff says If the quarter-cent referendum doesn’t pass, it is going to be a challenge, not just for the city, but for all the entities involved.

“It would definitely have an impact, but as a community, as a city we would adjust,” said Deardoff.

As for expectations when the vote comes down on Tuesday, both sides weighed in on what they think and hope will happen.

“It is either going to be razor-thin, and the tax will stay, or it will be a complete blow-out and the Cosmosphere and Strataca are going to have to figure out what to do,” said Lowe.  “We have the advantage in this community of having two world-class attractions, second to none, and I would like to think that voters in Hutchinson are as proud as I am of that,” added Meredith.

The last time the sales tax in Hutchinson was up for a vote was in 2012.

72 percent of voters elected to keep the tax in place.

According to the Department of Revenue, in Hutchinson, depending on where you shop, you could pay anywhere between 9.1 and 11.1 percent in sales tax.

In Wichita, you pay seven and a half cents per dollar.

Out west, the sales tax in Hays is 8.75 percent and in Liberal, it’s 9.25 percent.

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