Our local governing bodies, along with governing bodies across the state, saw their costs of operations increase dramatically over the past several years necessitating a dialog on raising tax rates and/or cutting key public services. At the same time, Riley County had significant increases in valuations across the board. According to the Manhattan Mercury, the average Manhattan resident who lives in Riley County will see a 9.25 percent increase in their property tax bill in 2024.
That is not a sustainable model and has been a hot topic in the run-up to November’s local elections. The Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce believes there are two ways to address this problem going forward.
The less-preferred way to tackle this challenge is for government to cut services that sustain our quality of life in Manhattan. In addition to negatively impacting our day-to-day lives, that model is typically not sustainable, and it becomes a continual cycle of cuts along with the inevitable loss of population and jobs. Eventually, you end with the fate of rural communities across the country and are fighting for survival.
The preferred model is economic expansion and growth. As costs go up to serve our population, we believe that adding taxpayers, particularly commercial taxpayers, helps offset these costs and reduces the burden on existing taxpayers. Unfortunately, we have had stagnant population and job growth for nearly a decade as decreases at Kansas State and Fort Riley had a detrimental impact on our region.
We believe we can turn around these population and employment trends. First, we are optimistic about Kansas State’s Next Gen strategy which projects a reverse in enrollment declines and an increase in research. Both will have a positive impact on our community.
Second, we believe in Manhattan’s ability to compete for jobs and talent. It will require focusing on key infrastructure to make that happen. Our board of directors will be working on prioritizing these key projects over the next several months. We also will be looking to you, our members, to help spread the message that Manhattan must add more private sector jobs and add more people to maintain our quality of life without creating undue burdens on the existing population.
This is an important opportunity that will pay dividends to our residents.