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Miller says economy will challenge county

Lagging sales tax revenue will force commission to prioritize, incumbent says.
Monday, October 13, 2008 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:05 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 11, 2009

COLUMBIA — Karen Miller is running unopposed for a fifth term as Boone County Southern District commissioner on the November ballot. In the Aug. 5 primary, she faced Democratic challenger Sid Sullivan and won with 71 percent of the vote.

Miller said the biggest challenge facing the county over the next four years will be the slowdown in the economy. The county usually experiences around 3 percent growth in sales tax revenue each year. But last year, that growth was only 0.9 percent. In fiscal 2008, sales tax revenue has actually fallen 0.55 percent thus far.

“I just don’t see it changing for a while,” Miller said. “I think there’s just so much unrest in the financial markets, and people are unemployed because they were in construction, or businesses are cutting back, so we’re just not seeing people having the money to spend on goods that are sales-tax associated.”

The county relies heavily on sales tax not only for general revenue but also for roads. It also has a 12-cent property tax levy. Although commissioners have said publicly that the county lacks sufficient funding for road projects, Miller said now is not a good time to talk about raising taxes.

Miller said that if county government must cut or scale back programs or services, it must start with those that are not required by state law, such as economic development, community services and the health department. The county must continue recording documents, assessing property, collecting taxes and holding elections because state statutes require it to do so.

“You try to manage expectations for the citizenry,” Miller said. “We might not be able to do what we’ve always done.”

Miller won’t cede her outlook to a “doom and gloom” forecast, however. Financial pressure provides the impetus to review programs, cut unnecessary spending and fix things that no longer work, she said.

“That’s a good opportunity to really kind of clean house and just rid yourself of just old habits that were put in place that when you evaluate, push come to shove, maybe aren’t the most cost effective.”

Miller said the time is ripe to seek cooperation and collaboration among local and state governments.

“It’s also an opportunity for local governments to come together and partner,” she said. “You can’t do it by yourself, but you can do it if you partner with others, and it forces us to look at different ways to improve infrastructure.”

Ashland Mayor Mike Asmus agreed and said it’s always important for local governments to be “rowing in the same direction.” Miller has a diverse group of constituents to serve, and Asmus said she’s always willing to try and meet their needs. 

Asmus, a Republican who challenged Miller’s re-election in 2004, said the length of Miller’s term indicates that she is more often right than wrong. He said she’s been a strong asset for the Southern District.

Hartsburg Mayor Nancy Grant also praised Miller, saying she has been “extremely helpful for Hartsburg.” Most recently, she arranged for mosquito fogging before the river town’s annual pumpkin festival.

“She’s always gone to bat for us in helping keep our roads improved and up to snuff,” Grant said. “She’s just a very good, responsive, Boone County commissioner that keeps her ear to what the needs are of our little town, and we are very appreciative of her being in that job.”

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