ELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times
The Liberal City Commission got installed in new digs Tuesday evening to begin its most recent meeting.
The evening began with a ribbon-cutting at the new Liberal City Commission chambers, now housed in the Liberal Recreation Center at 950 S. Grant Ave. The project has been ongoing for multiple years, and praise was given to the work.
“This building, this work, is something multiple mayors before me have tried to get done,” Liberal Mayor Jose Lara said. “Connie Seigrist spearheaded this, both the building and its acquisition, from the beginning. I’d also like to recognize Taylor Harden as being one of the other mayors who was part of this project, and Jeff [Parsons], who worked to make sure we were getting everything done so this facility can be used not only for our meetings and to represent the City of Liberal, but also as a community center. We’re excited to finally have this ribbon-cutting and officially host our first meeting here.”
Former mayor Connie Seigrist also briefly spoke.
“I’ve waited a long time for this, I started working on this when my children were in Kids Inc., and they’re all full grown with children of their own,” Seigrist said. “It’s a fantastic space, and I appreciate everyone for helping reach this point.”
In the Items from Citizens portion of the meeting, local citizen Hayden Olive shared some concerns regarding tax moneys, which he said he had brought to City Hall previously.
“Back in 2022, the Kansas Legislature passed an ordinance where the food tax was going to be taken care of, and it said it the state of Kansas, when you go and buy groceries, you don’t have to pay food tax anymore,” Olive said. “It’s a gradual reduction in the food tax. Starting Jan. 1, 2023, the food tax was supposed to be deducted by 2.5 percent. We have a grocery store in Liberal that’s still charging what it was before, they have not reduced the percentage of tax on food. Plus, this commission also gave them the right to raise their taxes 1 percent. I’m talking about El Rancho Supermercado on the south end of town. I’ve been in to speak to the manager twice – I told him what a nice facility they’ve got, and he seemed to understand that just fine, but when I brought receipts out to show him he’s still charging too much for taxes, he turned around and walked off, seeming to not care. My challenge to this commission is someone needs to go in and speak to him so he understands what’s going on, because every customer walking through there might as well grab their ankles, because it’s getting put to them. Groceries are more expensive lately, so, plus the 1-percent tax the commission gave them for fixing up the parking lot and those other improvements, that means they’re charging 3.5 percent more than anywhere else in town.”
Olive then showed the commissioners his receipts comparing other grocery stores in town.
“Dillons and Walmart have reduced their sales tax the extra 2.5 percent, as they were supposed to, and on groceries you buy there right now, you’re paying 6.75 percent,” Olive said. “At El Rancho Supermercado, you’re paying 10.25 percent. Every $100 you spend at El Rancho Supermercado, you’re paying $3.50 extra just in tax. We have commissioners here who, when they ran for office, they had part of their platform talking about helping people. This isn’t helping me or anyone else in the community, and I challenge the commission to do something about it.”
“This is actually outside of our authority, but by all means, we can still reach out to the correct entities,” Lara said. “We can’t deal with the store itself, but we can reach out to the state entities that are responsible for holding them accountable on this part and making sure that’s actually happening.”
Continuing with the evening’s new business, the commission approved changes to the rental building contracts for government and non-profit organizations, and also approved the purchase of three replacement pumps at Adventure Bay Water Park not to exceed $61,000. The commission also approved the purchase of a B&B Technologies TT200XD sprayer from Kansas Golf & Turf for Willow Tree Golf Course for an amount not to exceed $18,000.
To conclude the evening’s new business, the commission discussed a railroad overpass grant application.
“As you all know, under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, significant grant funding has been made available through the Federal Railroad Administration Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program to fund the construction of grade separation overpasses to enhance public safety,” City of Liberal Director of Public Affairs Keeley Moree said. “The City has considered two potential rail crossing sites for overpass construction – Pershing Avenue or Western Avenue – and intends to pursue future FRA grant opportunities to fund planning and construction costs. We did consultants who drew up some conceptual designs of what they would look like. Either location constitutes an eligible project for grant funding. There is a 20 percent local match required for these grant funds. There are a couple ways we can approach this. The first way would be applying for an initial grant, which would cover the cost of planning and development for the project, being able to come back the following year for the same grant to be able to fund construction costs. We’re requesting the commission provide direction on a preferred overpass site in order to pursue available grant funding: the Pershing Avenue site; the Western Avenue site; and both Pershing Avenue and Western Avenue sites.”
Moree then went through some of the criteria required and said there are many other factors to keep in mind while going forward with this project.
“We did have an initial conversation with Union Pacific this past week, they certainly encouraged us to stay connected and involved from the beginning since there are a lot of factors we can run into throughout this process,” Moree said. “This would allow us to step forward in this process with them. The costs for Union Pacific to review, just for the review of a project like this, would range from $200,000 to $300,000 per site location, so this grant would help with the costs of that. And there’s all the engineering, environmental studies and all of that work that would also be included with this work, and all of that adds up.”
After more discussion, the commission ultimately gave direction to apply for the Railroad Overpass Grant to do a study for a site for an additional overpass on the west side of town.