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League of Women Voters forum features candidates, park sales tax discussion

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 | 11:39 p.m. CDT; updated 6:47 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

COLUMBIA — The League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County's candidate forum Thursday night featured many candidates running for office. But the most contentious moment of the evening came during a discussion of the proposed county sales tax.

The proposal would add a one-eighth-cent sales tax to support county parks and the Central Missouri Events Center. It is also known as Proposition EPIC. Effectively, the tax would only add a quarter to a $200 purchase in Boone County, said Bondi Wood, co-chair of the EPIC Visionary Committee of Boone County. The increase will last for six years and is expected to generate between $2 million and $3 million each year.

Steve Spellman, a representative of the group Keep Boone County Free, which opposes the tax, spoke against the proposal and said that the events center, which hosts the Boone County Fair, was being mismanaged by the county.

Spellman said the events center has been neglected and is approaching bankruptcy. He said it operates at a loss of $100,000 each year and has accrued more than $1 million in deferred maintenance costs.

But Wood said the proposal isn't a measure of desperation on the part of the county to fund the center. She said the Boone County Commission has been looking for ways to improve funding for recreation and county parks "for a very long time." The proposition is "probably older than you are," she said to Spellman.

"I've heard my opponent speak before, and he always says the same things, so I had to correct him," Wood said after the meeting.

The forum also highlighted several races that will be on the Aug. 5 primary. Chuck Basye and Elizabeth "Betsy" Phillips, Republican candidates for Missouri's 47th House District seat, fielded questions about raising taxes to pay for teachers and about how they would have voted on Medicaid expansion, among other topics. The candidates were opposed to both proposals, and Basye said he would oppose raising taxes in any form.

Nora Dietzel and Lois Miller are both running on the Democratic ticket to become the next recorder of deeds for Boone County. In one of the lighter moments of the meeting, the moderator asked both to "make the office exciting."

Five candidates are running to replace retiring Division V Circuit Judge Larry Bryson. Finley Gibbs, Robert Fleming and Kim Shaw are running on the Democratic ticket; Michael Whitworth and C. Douglas Shull are running on the Republican ticket. Shull was not at the forum.

The league will host another forum Thursday. The upcoming forum will feature speakers for and against the five proposed amendments to the state constitution.

That forum will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Friends Room of the Columbia Public Library, 100 W. Broadway.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.


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