What you need to know: April 2 election
On Monday night, a Town Hall meeting was held at the Kay County Fairgrounds Event Center to discuss two propositions that will be on the ballot for the April 2 municipal election. Here's what you need to know about each one.
The first proposition on the ballot, Resolution 1-28-2019, would extend the life of an existing 1 percent sales tax used to fund the Blackwell Regional Hospital. According to community leaders, the measure to extend the life of the tax was placed on the ballot in order to help fund a proposed $12 million remodeling project at the hospital.
A majority of the city's current hospital was built in 1953 and needs to be replaced, say hospital officials. Under the reconstruction proposal, some of the existing hospital would be torn down and replaced. The new 19,000 square-foot hospital would include an on-site clinic to be used by the hospital's physicians. It would have a maximum of 10 patient beds compared to the current total of approximately 49, said Steven Taylor, the hospital's CEO. It also would not have a surgical suite, though the hospital currently does not perform surgeries.
“We don't need a facility [as large] as we used to,” said Taylor.
Should the proposal pass, Stillwater Medical Center, which currently manages the hospital, would become the hospital's operator. By being the operator, the company would be responsible for any losses incurred by the hospital. It would also pay to lease the hospital from the city.
Revenue from the sales tax allocation would be used solely for the repayment of construction costs for the new hospital, said Mayor T.J. Greenfield.
City Attorney Bryce Kennedy added that, if sales tax collections dwindled, the repayment of construction costs would be “cushioned” by interest generated from the Blackwell Public Trust and from lease payments made by Stillwater Medical.
HOTEL/MOTEL TAX PROPOSITIONS
The second measure on the ballot would, if approved, raise the city's current lodging tax, also known as a hotel/motel tax, from 6 percent to 8 percent. The lodging tax is levied on the rental of hotel and motel rooms within the city limits, including those bordering the Interstate 35 corridor near the west end of the city.
City officials say revenue from the tax would be used to develop the city's tourist attractions, including the county fairgrounds and city parks. Greenfield estimates that the tax would bring in another $60,000 per year to the city.
Opponents of the tax say the increase in tax rates would drive away customers. Mitzi Graham, the general manager of the Super 8 Motel, said an increase in the tax would drive away long-term customers at area hotels.
Although raising the city's lodging tax to 8 percent would make it equal to those of surrounding cities, Blackwell has the highest sales tax rate in Kay County, meaning customers would pay more to stay in Blackwell. Currently, customers pay the city's 10.167 percent sales tax on top of the 6 percent lodging tax.
“We stand to lose customers,” she said. “Right now, out of the six hotels in Blackwell, four of them are about to close. We are fighting to keep customers.”
Graham added that hotels will have to cut their rates to “unaffordable levels” to compensate for increased taxes.
“No, we don't want this extra tax,” she said.
Others at the meeting also stated that potential hotel customers do consider the amount of taxes they will pay at hotels before choosing where to stay.
City Manager Janet Smith responded to Graham by saying that raising the tax could eventually help local hotels by offering more things to do in Blackwell.
“We are trying to attract more people coming in. I'm sorry that it's a negative thing for you,” Smith said to Graham, “but these additional funds could potentially help to get you over the hump because they're going to help develop [the I-35 corridor].”
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