Voters extend road tax

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 | 11:57 p.m. CST; updated 2:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Despite a low turnout, Boone County voters overwhelmingly approved a 10-year extension of the half-cent sales tax for road and bridge projects Tuesday.

The official tally from the office of Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren showed 8,325, or 81 percent, of voters approved the tax while 1,944, or 19 percent, voted against it. Only 12 percent of the county’s registered voters cast ballots.

Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson said he expected a low turnout because the tax was the only issue on the ballot.

This is the second extension of the tax, which was originally approved for a five-year stint in 1993. Voters in 1998 agreed to continue the tax for another 10 years. Tuesday’s vote ensures the tax, which has generated $127 million, will remain in place through September 2018.

Dave Griggs, treasurer of Citizens to Renew the Road and Bridge Fund, said he thinks the campaign costs of about $5,000 were enough to inform voters about the issue.

“We raised what we thought would be the necessary money to get the word out,” Griggs said. “I think we did a pretty decent job.”

Columbia resident Scott Rowson came out to vote Tuesday. He said he voted for the tax because he thinks it’s important for the county to continue making improvements to its roads.

“We’re all driving on the roads, and everyone has complaints,” Rowson said. “I think (the tax) is a valuable resource for the county.”

Although the tax generated $11.6 million in 2006 alone, members of the Boone County Commission and representatives of the Boone County Public Works Department have said it’s barely enough to keep up with maintenance requirements.

“Just today, the costs of fuel increased,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the continuation of the tax will allow the county to continue with maintenance and the improvement of some roads.

The majority of the revenue generated through the first 15 years of the tax has been funneled into Public Works, making up 76 percent of the department’s total budget. County officials warned that if the sales tax failed, they would be forced to boost the county property tax levy to 29 cents, or perhaps 34 cents, the maximum allowed without a vote.

When the tax was approved in 1993, county commissioners promised to pave 50 miles of road and to roll back the property tax levy from 29 cents to 4.75 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. For the owner of a home worth $100,000, the annual property tax bill from the county was dropped from $55.10 to $9.02.

Bumping the property tax up to 34 cents would cost that same owner $64.60 per year. But Griggs said even that move would leave the county $6 million or $7 million short of the revenue it generates with the sales tax.

Because of the rising costs of maintenance, Griggs said he thinks the half-cent tax is only sufficient for maintenance and small road projects.

Pearson said the county will soon begin to look at additional funding options, but no specific deadline has been designated.

“We know that voters approved this one and that’s a good start,” Pearson said. “But if we want to go and ask them for additional funding, we’re going to have to make a very good case for that.”

— Missourian reporter Mary Elise DeCoursey contributed to this report.

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