Tuesday, October 23, 2012
As voters in Hutchinson head to the polls in two weeks, they will be asked whether to extend a city sales tax.
Hutchinson uses part of that quarter-of-a-cent sales tax to support its two big tourist attractions. One of those attractions gave voters a chance Tuesday evening to see how that money is spent.
Voters are not being asked to approve a new sales tax. The 0.25 percent sales tax has been around since 1993 and comes up for renewal every few years. What leaders of the Kansas Underground Salt Museum wanted to do was show taxpayers what the museum has done since becoming a recipient of part of that revenue in 2008.
"This is a world-class set-up. I had no clue that it was this big and this elaborate," said Hutchinson resident Mike Ward after getting his first look at the museum.
Ward was among several Hutchinson voters getting a free look at the museum, which along with the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center and Hutchinson's streets department, receives a portion of the revenue from the sales tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"I've spent a lot of time out at the Cosmosphere," Ward said. "I've met lots of pilots and astronauts. Reno County's blessed to have the two museums here."
Michael Armour, president of the museum's board of directors said visitors to the salt museum and the Cosmosphere are among those contributing to the sales tax revenue. The museum has about 50,000 visitors each year, he said.
"Nearly half of our visitors come from outside of Reno County, so we know if they're spending two hours under ground, they're also eating lunch here, they're buying gas for their cars, they're spending money right here in Reno County," Armour said.
Reno County Historical Society Executive Director Linda Schmitt hopes a majority of voters agree.
"People are coming in and spending the night, particularly when they also go to the Kansas Cosmosphere and they go to the salt museum in the same weekend or the same two-day period," she said.
Schmitt said the museum would be able to survive without the sales tax revenue, which makes up about 10 percent of its budget.
"But we can't thrive without it because we use the sales tax money to grow and market so that we get a lot of people in here to see it," Schmitt said.