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Huntsdale faces first tax issues

Sunday, April 6, 2008 | 10:45 p.m. CDT; updated 3:31 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Route O winds as it leads into Huntsdale, which has a population of 31 residents, about 13 miles west of Columbia.

COLUMBIA — As one of the first areas of Boone County to be settled, Huntsdale has experienced many transformations. Once a Missouri River boom town on the southwest border of Boone County, Huntsdale was home to a high school, a hotel and a mill. Eventually, however, the glory days faded. Huntsdale became unincorporated in 1929, with no board of trustees or public government, and remained so for 74 years.

Given recent development nearby, Huntsdale residents reincorporated in 2003. Now, five years later, the 31 people who live in town are facing their first tax issues: Tuesday’s ballot includes proposals for a half-cent sales tax and a 50-cent property tax levy.

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“Basically, it will be funding for the town so we can take care of our roads and drains,” said Ed McGee, a member of the Huntsdale Board of Trustees, who aren’t paid with public funds. “It’s not going to be that much. There’s not that many people here, and there’s not that many homes.”

McGee is right. Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker did the math on the property tax.

“A 50-cent property tax levy would have generated $674.03 last year,” Schauwecker said. “The 2007 total assessed valuation for the village of Huntsdale was $134,806.”

To the owner of a $100,000 home, a 50-cent levy would mean an annual tax bill of $95. A business worth $200,000 would get a bill for $320.

The village trustees haven’t tried to estimate what the sales tax might bring in.

McGee said the town lacks the capacity to clean its own roads after snow falls. He hopes that with tax revenue the village will be able to hire snowplow operators, clean its drains and perform other general maintenance with the money generated by the taxes.

Although the property tax might not seem onerous, owners of the town’s two businesses worry how it might affect business. Patty Orscheln, owner of the bed-and-breakfast Katy’s Little Lodge said she’ll vote against it.

“I try to keep my prices affordable because I have to compete with state parks and other towns on the river,” Orscheln said, referring to Huntdale’s location along the cross-state Katy Trail State Park. “It’s going to get harder to do that if I have to compensate for this new tax.”

Linda Brown, co-owner of Katfish Katy’s, a camp store and riverside campground was concerned about the property tax.

“I’m unsure about whether I’ll vote for the property tax,” she said. “I think the county’s commercial assessments are a little high anyways, considering the amount of business we see, so I’m going to look into that before I vote.”

Though they worry about the property tax, neither Orscheln nor Brown are terribly concerned about the sales tax.

“It certainly doesn’t help me any,” Orscheln said. “I doubt many would notice a change, though.”

Brown agreed. “People that shop at Wal-Mart would come out here to buy from us if people were really that worried about paying a sales tax,” Brown said. “Even people from Huntsdale go into town to the supermarkets rather than buying from (our camp store), so I don’t think anyone is going to care too much.”

To date, most maintenance in Huntsdale is done by volunteers. Community members have even preserved the village’s greatest treasures without impetus from the town’s government. Orscheln owns the home of the founder of Huntsdale, William B. Hunt. Also, the church that Hunt founded in 1902 still sits on Main Street, in the middle of town.

“(Huntsdale) has a loving bunch of people, and they’re very supportive,” Frank Norman, pastor of the Huntsdale Baptist Church said. “One of our members has actually maintained the lawn here for years without anyone asking.”

Norman said some church members descend from Huntsdale’s settlers. He said various members of the community made most the church’s features, including a stained glass window and a black walnut podium crafted by a farmer who got the lumber from his farm near Huntsdale.

Mary Beeler, 75, a member of the Huntsdale Baptist Church, said town residents are “like a small family.” She said, “Everybody knows everybody, and if anybody needs help you can always ask.”

“We probably have the most democratic town in America,” Brown said. “Everyone knows everyone and what everyone is doing. Pretty much everyone goes to the town meetings, too. What better democracy could you have?”


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