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Residents speak out against Boone County property tax hike

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 | 9:18 p.m. CDT; updated 11:27 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 15, 2009

COLUMBIA — The Boone County commissioners say they're out of options.

After putting off purchases, cutting payroll costs and eliminating inefficiencies, county officials say they are expecting a $550,000 shortfall by the end of the year.

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On Thursday, the commission will consider a property tax hike to help cover the shortfall. The taxes could increase by up to 5 cents per $100 of assessed value, though Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson said the increase would likely be less.

The shortfall was caused in large part by declining sales tax revenue. Last year, sales tax revenue fell for the first time since the county started collecting it. This year, the county projected that sales tax revenue would stay about the same. Instead, it's falling by about 3 percent.

The county is required by state law to use part of the sales tax revenue to lower property taxes. When sales tax revenue is down, the commission can raise its property taxes to make up the difference.

But at a hearing Tuesday, a handful of Boone County residents told the commission they have had to tighten their belts in this economic downturn, and they think the county should, too.

Columbia resident John Donelon said the county erred in assuming the economic climate would fare better in Boone County than the rest of the country. With unemployment up, he said, people can't afford a larger tax burden.

"When you see unemployment like that, what does it mean?" he said. "People don't have money in their pockets."

Greg Mullanix, a heavy equipment operator in the Boone County Public Works department, said the county should cut elsewhere to make up the shortfall instead of raising taxes.

"Any raise right now from you guys ... is not really acceptable to me," he told the commission. "I have to cut back, and I suggest you guys do the same."

The commission said it has already made cuts. Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller said the county has worked to keep services the same while cutting costs, including hiring fewer new employees.

Miller said the county exhausted its other options before considering a property tax increase.

"We don't take this lightly," she said. "This was not an easy decision for us to even think about."

The commission will likely allow public comment on the proposed tax increase at the start of its regular meeting Thursday, Pearson said.


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Mike Martin September 16, 2009 | 7:54 a.m.

BOONE-DOGGLE: The Great Boone County Tax Hike of 2009

COLUMBIA, 9/15/09 (Beat Byte) -- Five of seven Columbia school board members just did it. Not to be outdone, your Boone County Commission -- Skip Elkin, Karen Miller, and Ken Pearson -- will be meeting at a bad time -- 5:30 pm tonight, right as you're getting off work -- to raise your property taxes, too.

That's right -- in the middle of the worst economic meltdown in recent American memory, your Boone County Commission, with some of the highest paid commissioners in the state, will raise your property taxes after a public hearing tonight.

But not to worry. Stan Kroenke, that perennial economic engine of his own and a lot of other people's devices, will pay about twenty cents more per year for the $10 million, 130-acre parcel he owns across from Mill Creek Elementary. It will be you -- and only you, Mr., Ms., and Mrs. Much Smaller Fry, many with children -- who pay real dollars.

County Commissioners usually meet at an even worse time, in the mornings, when everyone's at work. But this time -- to make it at least sound like they give a hoot about what any of us have to say, they're meeting just as work lets out to pull off a new low in a series of boneheaded government boondoggles.

The whole mess started back before Donnie Stamper officially converted to what some folks like to call the Dark Side of a Developer-Driven Democracy. Then presiding commissioner, Stamper got all enfangled -- is that a word? -- in the now infamous purchase of the county fairgrounds, a chronically mismanaged mess that this year has a donated building overbudget (isn't that an oxymoron?) and a guy from another state running off with a bunch of sheet metal for that overbudget building.

Five years ago, it was the Downtown Building Spending Spree, wherein commissioners bought roughly $4 million of privately-owned buildings, taking them off the property tax rolls and instantly pissing off the Empress and her minions (Karen is the Queen; Carrie the Empress) with a suggestion to close nearby streets for a pie-in-the-sky "courthouse square," cutting off one half the city from the other half.

Good on Carrie Gartner, btw. She fought hard to pry the commissioner's greedy fingers from this Boone-headed move.

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(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 16, 2009 | 7:56 a.m.

BOONE-DOGGLE cont.

Next up was the Jerry's Hair Flip-Flop Fiasco, when Commissioners paid over a quarter-million dollars for the old Jerry's Hair Salon building, then flipped it to attorney Bob Murray less than a year later. I remember then-presiding commish Keith Schnarre saying something about commissioners not knowing what to do with the building.

Even Tom Schauwecker -- whose assessor reserve fund must be pushing $2 million by now -- condemned the commission, telling the Trib they didn't go through proper budgetary channels when they bought all those buildings.

Last year came the Johnston Paint paint-the-town-like-a-drunken-sailor sale, wherein commissioners blew their entire year's reserves -- nearly $700,000 -- early in 2008, paying nearly $20,000 over appraisal for yet another old downtown building.

Bizarrrleeee enough, they're short about $700,000 so far in this year's budget, according to auditor June Pitchford. DOH!

Coming to the end of my screed -- which won't matter a wit (our taxes are going up, to cover for all this boneheadedness and because voters keep returning county officials) -- I just can't get it out of my head that these three commissioners call themselves DEMOCRATS.

Say that slowly with me, please. Spell it out, even. D-E-M-O-C-R-A-T-S. Why do I point out the obvious? Because it's just so damned ironic, or hypocritical, or some such crazy thing.

For judges; powerful developers and downtown landowners; and other potent patrontates, your Boone County Commissioners can't bend over backwards far enough.

Yet year after year, they can't get their own lower-level employees decent pay raises and they just ran out of money for their measly $3,000.00 indigent burial fund. They told the Humane Society to get more accountable -- and take this funding request and shove it.

And Sheriff Carey, a member of the human services team, just does with less, year after year (which oddly enough, he seems happy to oblige). Carey and Chief Burton arrest 'em; judges release 'em. They arrest 'em again. Judges release 'em again. We don't want those nasty criminals hangin' round our new courthouse!

Your Boone County Government at work. Kinda reminds me of -- a bunch of clucking Jayhawks.

RELATED:
http://www.columbiamissourian.com/storie...
http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2009...

(Report Comment)
John Beaumonte September 16, 2009 | 8:30 a.m.

Columbia Heartbeat,

Many points hit the nail right on the head!!

(Report Comment)

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