Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed 1% special purpose sales tax that would have funded infrastructure projects in Buffalo, Kaycee and Johnson County, according to unofficial results. Of the 2,886 ballots cast in the election, 72% opposed the measure.
David Iverson, chairman of the Johnson County Patriot Conservatives, a PAC that was fiercely opposed to the measure, said that voters made the “responsible” decision.
“I think the voters recognized that we can’t afford a 20-year tax. We don't know what the future is going to hold, and saddling ourselves with that sort of obligation is just irresponsible,” Iverson said.
The sales tax would have funded improvements to a range of facilities, including the Bomber Mountain Civic Center, the Johnson County Library, the Buffalo Golf Club, the Johnson County YMCA, the Johnson County Fairgrounds, the Jim Gatchell Museum, the Buffalo Senior Center and Harold Jarrard Park. Money would have also gone toward Buffalo and Kaycee infrastructure projects.
Without this tax money, those facilities face a daunting financial situation, one that is not unacknowledged by Iverson and the Johnson County Patriot Conservatives.
Chris Williams, who is also involved with the Johnson County Patriot Conservatives, said that it wasn’t necessary to do all the projects at the same time, and that the attempt to do so had put people in a “difficult position.”
“This election was always about how, not what,” Williams said.
In terms of prioritizing which buildings should be addressed first, Iverson said that the Bomber Mountain Civic Center was “certainly something we have to deal with.” The former school is plagued with aging equipment and rampant asbestos that will be difficult and expensive to remove.
The YMCA, too, is left without money to replace its pool, which is at the end of its expected life, according to YMCA CEO Tim Miner.
Other projects that will have to be shelved include construction of a new clubhouse at the Buffalo Golf Course and a new exhibit hall at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, facilities that backers say are rapidly deteriorating.
On social media and at forums hosted by the measure’s proponents, Johnson County residents expressed concern that now, amidst a still-shaky economic recovery, was not the right time to raise taxes. They also questioned if the government should own these facilities in the first place.
Of Johnson County’s 5,072 registered voters, 57% voted in the election, according to the unofficial results.
The last time a special-use tax was put before voters, the measure passed with 58% of the vote and a turnout of 79% of the voters, though that ballot question was asked during the 2018 midterms. That tax was approved for street improvement projects in Buffalo on Flatiron Drive, West Fetterman Street and Burritt Avenue. City clerk/treasurer Julie Silbernagel said she expects the full $7.1 million tax will be collected by December 2022, at which point it will automatically expire.
Iverson said that, after taking a break, he and the Johnson County Patriot Conservatives would be happy to work with the city and county to come up with another proposal. His focus, he said, would be on private fundraising, “an avenue that hasn’t been explored.”
But the entities who supported the ballot measure have said they already tried fundraising and that it simply won’t raise enough money to do the work that needs to be done across Johnson County.
“I’ve got a couple of different avenues that I’m working on,” Iverson said. He declined to go into specifics, though. “I’ll let everybody know when I have some news on that front.”