Fort Hays State University > About FHSU > Executive Division > Office of the President > FHSU Profile - Local Government
Hays, Kansas, was founded in 1867 and in its early years the frontier town was characteristic of the American Old West. Home to several notable figures, including George Custer, Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, Hays was a destination for Volga German settlers in the late 1800s because the land was suitable for their lifestyle and farming. Hays is the county seat of Ellis County and the largest city in northwest Kansas, with a population of 21,000. The city is also the retail, education, entertainment and medical center of the region. The city operates under a commission-manager form of government, which was adopted in 1919. Hays was the third city in Kansas to use this model. In 1966, the city switched from a three- to a five-person commission. The Commission hires the city manager, who appoints the various department heads and other city employees. The Commission is a policy-making body that enacts city ordinances. The city manager advises the commissioners and is responsible for enforcing their policies. The city manager is also responsible for preparing a proposed budget for the commissioners. The mayor, who is elected by the City Commission, presides over Commission meetings and represents the city at ceremonial events. The commissioners are elected at-large with an election held every two years. Commission meetings are held on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 6:30 p.m. The Commission also holds work sessions at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month. All meetings are open to the public. Hays was largely unaffected by the economic crash of 2008, with unemployment currently at 2.6 percent. The city has held its property tax levy at 25 mills for several years, and sales tax revenues have climbed annually over that period. The budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins on Jan. 1, has been set at $36 million. Hays is located in a semi-arid region. Thanks to cooperation from citizens in conservation efforts, Hays has the lowest per capita rate of water consumption in the state. It is also a model for recycling. A voluntary program that was established two decades ago has such a high participation rate that other cities have sought out Hays officials for advice on establishing recycling programs. The National Civic League named Hays an All-America City in 1996. Recently, Hays was named the second-best city in Kansas for raising children.
The county, with a population of about 28,000, is governed by a three-member County Commission. A county administrator coordinates county government activities on a daily basis. The commissioners are elected from districts to four-year terms. The sheriff and most other department heads are also elected directly by the citizens. In a special election this fall, voters overwhelmingly approved a special sales tax to pay for renovation of a new administration building, for construction of a new EMS/rural fire building, and for the renovation and redesign of the Courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.
Although it is not officially a governmental organization, the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development plays a major role in the life of the community. It was founded in 1988 during a period in which the county experienced a downturn in the agriculture and oil industries as well as the loss of a major employer. Community leaders came together to create an organization that could put the community back on the right economic track. Formed as a public/private partnership between Ellis County and the cities within the county, the Coalition is funded in part by Ellis County, the cities of Hays, Ellis and Victoria, and private contributions. The Coalition focuses on one simple mission: the economic growth of the community. To further this end, the Coalition works with the community and businesses in a number of areas: affordable housing, workforce development and training, grant writing, relocation assistance, start-up assistance, business recruitment, and much more. The Coalition continues to develop and maintain strong relationships with local, state and federal organizations in an effort to bring resources and support to businesses located in the community. As businesses succeed, the community succeeds.
The Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1917, works for the prosperity of Hays and its neighbors. Like the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development, the Chamber is not a governmental entity, but it plays a vital role as the catalyst for bringing the business community together with other organizations and the community at large. The Chamber helps keep the Hays area viable, fosters a better business climate and promotes a higher quality of life. The Chamber is a resource for business and community information with concentration in four specific categories: member services, leadership development, community betterment and business advocacy.
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