COLUMBIA — Residents around Boone County trickled into polling places today to vote on Proposition 1, a proposed renewal of the half-cent sales tax for road and bridge projects.
The Missourian surveyed a total of 19 voters outside three polling places. Sixteen said they voted to approve the tax; three voted against it.
Proposition 1 is the only issue on today’s ballot. It would extend the sales tax for 10 years, through 2018. The tax, first approved in 1993 and later extended for 10 years in 1998, has generated a total of $127 million in its first 15 years.
Paul Bunch was among the few residents who talked to the Missourian this morning. He said today’s low voter turnout was due to the lack of multiple ballot issues and a possible sense among the public that the tax issue isn’t very important. But he said he thinks road maintenance is an essential function of government.
“It’s one of the taxes I can support,” Bunch said.
Ida Johnson, a Columbia resident who voted at Dripping Springs Church in northern Boone County, said she voted for the tax to “get things even” by improving roads out in the county. She cited a past example of an important improvement: the bridge from Missouri 763 to Prathersville Road that was built in 1996.
Todd Houts, an MU professor of environmental health and safety, said he learned about the tax through the city and council officials he works with.
“I don’t think it was advertised well,” Houts said.
The first thing he needed to understand, he said, was that the sales tax was an extension of an existing tax.
Houts voted for Proposition 1 because he thinks continued maintenance of county roads is “desperately needed.”
Voter Sue Johnson said she wasn’t very familiar with the tax before she came to the polls because she moved to Columbia only two months ago. Yet, she said she voted for the sales tax because she wants to keep property taxes down. County officials have warned that if Proposition 1 fails, they probably would be forced to boost property taxes significantly. The county rolled back its property tax from 29 cents to 4.75 cents when the road sales tax was first approved.
“This way people from outside the county can contribute to (paying for) the tax,” Sue Johnson said of people who come from outside Boone County to shop.
Although the majority of voters surveyed said they supported the tax, a few dissented.
Oliver Adams, for example, said he hasn’t seen sufficient road improvements. Adams described intersections such as Broadway and Stadium as “nasty” in reference to the overall condition of the roads.
Adams said citizens will pay for road work whether the sales tax passes or not. He said he finds that “irritating.”
“What, then, is the need for a vote?” he asked. “Regardless, it’s a never-ending thing. They keep on adding taxes.”
Missourian reporter Mary Elise DeCoursey contributed to this report.