Today's Question: Would you approve of a use tax in Boone County?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 | 10:24 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA – The Boone County Commission wants to form an exploratory committee to decide whether a proposed use tax should be voted on by Boone County residents. The committee would likely include a couple of representatives from various Boone County cities.

A use tax would add an additional charge to goods purchased by Missouri residents out of state. The idea is for the tax to make up for sales tax revenue being lost on transactions with out-of-state vendors, most of which occur over the Internet.

It's been several years since the use tax was seriously considered in Boone County. It failed by about 16 percent of votes in 1996 and by about 13 percent in 1998. However, the economic climate was much different at that time than it is now.

The state of Missouri already charges a use tax to those who spend more than $2,000 on out-of-state purchases, and rules stipulate use taxes must equal local sales taxes. But, despite small participation both times, voters twice disapproved of a use tax by a considerable margin.

Would you support a use tax being charged in Boone County, considering Missouri already enforces one? Are there better ways for the county to remedy lower sales tax revenue?

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Sapphire Blue November 10, 2009 | 1:57 p.m.

I would not be in favor of this. Seeing how the measure failed with voters on two separate occasions I would propose bringing it before voters one more time rather than the Commission just doing it knowing how residents voted the last two times.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 10, 2009 | 2:13 p.m.

Boone County’s profits of doom
from the Columbia Business Times
January 9,2009

It was, perhaps, the most telling comment from a public official in all of 2008, speaking volumes about the way local government-city, county, and school board-operates.

Boone County Assessor Tom Schauwecker was feeling frustrated, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported-frustrated about a repeat of the same old doom and gloom budget scenarios that were preparing to hand his employees a meager 1 percent pay raise.

He called the raise “insulting” and then said the most astonishing thing to the Tribune’s reporter:

“Adding to his frustration were the recent capital acquisitions, such as the Johnston Paint and Lifestyles furniture buildings, which he said depleted reserve funds and did not go through the budgetary process.”

Two major expenditures totaling nearly 2.7 million reserve-draining dollars did not go through the budgetary process. With this assertion on Jan. 4, 2008, assessor Schauwecker had accused the Boone County Commission of financial malfeasance.

He had also laid waste, in one short sound bite, to an old canard that rules the halls of power in this community with an iron fist: There is no money in the budget.

Not true, at least not when it comes to satisfying the fiscal appetites of well-paid chieftains for new office space, pet projects and patronage to the powerful.

True to form, local media let Schauwecker’s comment go, either failing to recognize its implications or failing to care.

That’s unfortunate because falsely labeled gloom-and-doom budgets continue pummeling us from all sides, implicitly threatening higher taxes and explicitly reducing or denying important human services, from animal control to police protection to reasonable wages for lower level government employees.


(Report Comment)
Mike Martin November 10, 2009 | 2:15 p.m.

PROFITING from doom

For most anything that senior staffers want, there’s money in the coffers. But for basic services taxpayers and voters need, the money suddenly vanishes.

It’s a game Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala knows all too well. “The city budget has money under every rock,” he has said. “The trick is in finding it. Only the city manager really knows where all the money’s buried.”

From those buried dollars, a mighty $23 million city hall is growing. So too a $15 million parking garage, and hefty pay increases for senior city administrators.

Though fiscally prudent in one sense, City Hall’s tight-fisted culture has helped concentrate too much power in the office of the city manager. Elected council members can approve their priorities-a new sustainability director, for instance-only to have the non-elected city manager overturn them by clamping down on spending.

Facing reduced sales tax revenues this year, Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins-unilaterally and without a council vote- placed “a budgetary hold on all so-called supplemental items, including additional personnel, approved by the Columbia City Council for the 2009 fiscal year,” the Tribune reported.

“I heard about all this the same way you did,” Skala told me. “By reading it in tonight’s paper.”

RESERVATIONS about reserves

Late last month, on the heels of creating a new “public information officer” position, the Boone County Commission summarily denied a much-needed funding increase for the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS), which for local government functions as a cheap alternative to a proper animal control center.

After publicly promising to help the agency “with a significant investment,” Northern Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin joined other county commissioners in voting down their request. Under a city/county contract, CMHS receives $110,000 yearly to take in approximately 4,500 animals as a municipal dog pound, leaving the non-profit group about $300,000 short.

Down from last year’s 1 percent raise, the gloom-and-doom county budget provided no raise for county employees this year, despite nearly $17 million in two rainy-day piggy banks-$11 million in general reserve funds and another $6.57 million in undesignated/unreserved funds on this year’s $51 million budget, according to recent Columbia Tribune reports.

Together, the two funds amount to a whopping 33 percent reserve that dwarfs the Columbia school district’s 16 percent reserve. Nonetheless, Elkin said the commission was cracking down on spending.

“If we invest more, there’s going to be more accountability,” Elkin told the Tribune on Christmas Eve. “Our reserve is not like a slush fund that we can do with whatever we want.”

Tell that to the county assessor.

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