Mayor Jeff Underhill and Junction City Manager Allen Dinkel approached the Geary County Commission about possibly transferring control of the Geary County Conventions and Visitors Bureau to the city and allowing the city to put its own transient guest tax in place.
Transient guest tax is a tax levied on visitors to the community when they stay overnight in Geary County hotels. The money generated by this tax can be used to “put heads in beds — ” meaning it can be used on things that bring visitors in from outside Geary County and lead to them staying overnight in hotels.
The city could not replace the county’s bed tax by state statute, according to Dinkel. However, it could add one of its own.
At this time, there is a six percent transient guest tax in place, including the county’s regular five percent tax and a one percent tax put in place to help fund a sports complex project.
“We all know some of these funds were misappropriated — the sports complex funds were misappropriated,” Dinkel said.
Commission Chair Trish Giordano said the funds were misappropriated by former county commissioners to fund grants offered to Redfish, LLC and for Sundown Salute. Giordano said former director Michele Stimatze was not responsible for this misappropriation. If and when the county hires a financial coordinator, that person would look into the apparent misappropriation and what could be done about it.
Dinkel said he believed int would be beneficial to have the CVB back under the Chamber.
Dinkel said it was in the city’s best interest to bring guests into Junction City because those visitors often end up paying sales tax during their stays which benefits Junction City. He also mentioned that lodging within Junction City generated the majority of the bed tax — he estimated between 75 and 80 percent.
Over the years, there has been little growth in transient guest tax revenue, Dinkel said.
He said the Economic Development Commission was currently working with a company that might want to build more hotels in Geary County, something that could increase transient guest tax revenues.
According to Dinkel and Underhill, the city would plan to move the CVB back under the umbrella of the Junction City Area Chamber of Commerce. The CVB had been part of the Chamber until the county announced its intent to pull the CVB out from under the Chamber’s umbrella in late June 2017. In the end, the CVB separated from the Chamber in early January 2018.
“I feel that the CVB and our hotels most benefited when (the CVB was) consolidated with the Chamber — a united front,” Underhill said. “Things have been ticking down over the past couple years — and again, throwing 2020 out because COVID sucked for everyone — but just looking on paper at the numbers, the best years were 2014, 2015, 2016 when we were consolidated.”
“We feel there’s a couple options to look at,” Dinkel said.
These options included leaving things as is, transferring the CVB to city control and reconsolidating it with the Chamber and allowing the city to have its own transient guest tax in addition to the county’s, according to Dinkel and Underhill. Dinkel also mentioned the possibility of increasing the bed tax to help with the sports complex project which he said would likely cost millions of dollars to build — more than the one percent tax is likely to generate.
“A couple hundred thousands dollars isn’t going to build a sports complex,” Underhill said. “We’re other going to need a large benefactor or the city or county’s going to have to step up.”
The possibility of using the former Junction City High School site to build a sports complex has been floated by community member Kendall Schoenrock, but according to Dinkel the city is still waiting to hear back from USD 475 about the matter.
After hearing from Underhill and Dinkel, the commission was not ready to make a decision on anything.
Commissioner Keith Ascher said he wanted the information Dinkell and Underhill had presented in writing before he could decide what he felt about the matter.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground here,” he said.
Ascher also said he felt it was not in the community’s best interest to raise taxes, including those only levied on people outside the community.
Giordano said she wanted to do more research before making a decision on the matter.
“I don’t feel like I have enough information to think that is a good idea at this time,” she said. “I’m not saying it can’t ever be, but I’m not for it right now and I’d definitely like to look into some stuff.”
She said she understood the frustration the city had with the amount of focus put on Milford Lake as a tourist attraction to the exclusion of other attractions in Geary County.
“I understand the frustration,” Giordano said. “Milford is something that Geary County has that a lot of folks do not have. I do feel that we need to concentrate on that, but I don’t feel it should be everything.”
Commissioner Alex Tyson said he was interested in the possibilities, but also wanted more information before making a choice.
After hearing from the city officials, former CVB employee and newly-added CVB board member Rick Dykstra spoke.
Dykstra said the city could put a transient guest tax in place legally, but the city would have to administer the tax and do everything else associated with the tax itself and it could put extra stressors on local hoteliers.
“And I agree with Mr. Ascher — the lower you keep the taxes the better off you are,” he said.
He talked about what he learned during his time working for former CVB Director Connie Hall who retired in early 2016.
“Transient guest tax — I say this with allude respect to local people — it’s not for local people,” Dykstra said. “It’s for events that attract people certainly and that’s what it’s supposed to be used for is to attract people to come in here (to visit).”
Jason Keilman of Candlewood Suites spoke from the point of view of a local hotelier.
“I don’t think we should raise it and get higher than Manhattan,” Keilman said of the guest tax.
He said the addition of a hotel on Fort Riley had cut into transient guest tax revenue in part because contractors who stay at hotels on post do not pay transient guest tax at all.
“Fort Riley drives our big business,” he said. “They do ask (about guest tax).”
CVB board member Adam Wilkey spoke up as well, saying he and other board members were “disappointed in the way that our director was treated and was departed,” but said he was nonetheless excited for the CVB’s future.
“Any event that brings people into town, we are excited to talk about in our board meetings,” Wilkey said.
He said he was behind any event that benefitted the community and brought people into Geary County and said that was why he objected to the county handing the CVB off to the city.
“We’ve got so many exciting people who are just pumped up about what we do,” he said. “To throw that away — just to hand that off, back to the Chamber. Look, the Chamber wants the money, right? That’s what it’s all about for them and that’s what it was before.”
Giordano said the CVB board had fought the county on many of its decisions since she and Tyson had come onto the commission in January. Wilkey asked for specific examples and Giordano said some CVB board members including member Janie Murk and CVB Chair Florence Whitebread had objected to Dyktsra being added to the CVB board.
“Every time I bring something up, somebody always has something to say and try to buck it,” she said.
Wilkey and member Sheila Burdett both said they were excited to have Dykstra onboard.
“I’m very happy … You’re never going to get 100 percent (of people happy), Trish,” Burdett said.
Giordano agreed but said again that it was often the same people taking issue with the county’s decisions. She also suggested the CVB board have a state official in to update members on state policies.
“I don’t know if we may need to have education for the (CVB board) on what is allowed and what is not allowed as far as what the money can be used for — what money can be used for and who can be on the board,” Giordano said, citing Junction City Main Street which had requested CVB funds.
Wilkey and Giordano had a brief argument as to what guest tax funds could be used for. Wilkey did not believe the funds could be used for JC Main Street to fund its administration — though he agreed it could be used for marketing purposes — while Giordano believed it could be.
Giordano and Tyson said the county has been trying to convince the board to work with the Chamber and the organizations under its umbrella including the EDC and the Military Affairs Council.
“That’s been my push not only just (for) you guys but them as well,” Tyson said. “Dump all that crap that happened five, 10 years ago. We have to move forward and if you guys can’t play nice with them, don’t come to us trying to ask for funding — trying to ask for support — because it’s got to go all ways. You can’t just pick and choose who you want to work with, where you want to work, if we’re not going to do it together. And I tell everybody, I will not support it if nobody — if people aren’t going to work together — I’m not going to support it. It doesn’t matter what side it is.”
According to Wilkey, the CVB had tried to work with those groups and received no support until after former director Stimatze left in late June.
The CVB and Chamber worked together on the freedom run, the veterans ceremony and several other Sundown Salute events this year, but that took place after Stimatze left. Wilkey felt the Chamber only offered this support because Stimatze had left and Burdett agreed.
“The commitment didn’t come until after Michele — until after she was gone,” Wilkey said. “And then when she was gone it was like, ‘ope, yeah, here we go — we’re in now.’ We know that’s what it was.”
“The cooperation goes two ways,” Burdett said.
She asked the commission to see from the CVB’s point of view. Wilkey said he was against consolidation with the Chamber, though he did not mind working with the Chamber on projects.
“All I want to do is for all of us to get together and be on the same page,” Giordano said.
The CVB is currently seeking to hire a director after the resignation of the former CVB director in late June. According to Giordano, the commission has received multiple applications for the position.
In other county news, the Geary County Commission has added a Facebook page for the county. The page can be found at https://www.facebook.com/GearyCounty where it will periodically be updated with information for the community.