March 24, 2005

Voters Being Asked to Renew ½ Cent Sales Tax for County Road and Bridge

For the second straight year Scotland County voters will be asked to consider road and bridge taxes. But it’s nothing new for the local pollsters – literally.

On April 5, local residents will cast ballots for the ½ cent capital sales tax for the county’s road and bridge fund. The tax, which is required to be renewed by voters every four years, has been in place since 1985 when voters approved the issue for the first time. Since then the 1/2 cent sales tax has been on the ballot four other times and passed each election.

The Scotland County Commission is hoping voters will make 2005 the fifth election in which the levy issue is approved.

“Sales tax revenue represents a significant portion of the road and bridge budget each year,” said Presiding Commissioner Mike Stephenson. “But as with every tax issue, it ultimately comes down to the people.”

Last year voters approved continuation of the 31-cent special levy for roads and bridges. That levy has been in place since 1947 to supplement the 35-cent road and bridge levy.

Overall property tax generates an estimated $330,000 for the department. The ½ cent sales tax is estimated to generate between $180,000 - $190,000 annually. The bulk of the $1.2 million annual budget is provided by Missouri CART (fuel taxes, vehicle sales tax and other fees) which brings in $480,000.

Overall, the county generates $425,000 a year in sales tax. In addition to the ½ cent road and bridge levy, there is also a ½ cent sales tax for the general revenue fund and a ¼ cent sales tax for law enforcement.

“The voters have been real good to support us through the years with the sales tax issues to help provide the needed revenue,” Stephenson stated.

The commissioners pointed out that the sales tax is earmarked for capital projects and must be spent on construction materials or equipment.

“The tax issue is very specific,” Stephenson explained. “The revenue has to be used for something tangible and can’t be spent on salaries, administrative costs or anything of that nature.”

The proposed 2005 budget has $212,000 earmarked for construction with $25,000 budgeted for tubes and another $279,000 for road rock. All these expenses qualify for use of the capital sales tax and easily will exceed the estimated $180,000 tax revenue.

The sales tax represents 1/6 of the entire department budget making it easy to see why the commission is concerned about the future of the issue.

“We just want the voters to be educated regarding the ballot and to know that this is not a new tax,” Stephenson said. “We’ve all been paying this sales tax since 1986 and it has accounted for many of the road and bridge improvements we’ve been able to make over the years.”

Despite tight budget years the commission has maintained the integrity of the road and bridge fund. State law allows up to five percent of road and bridge funds to be transferred into the general fund for administrative costs.

“That is clearly not why voters approve a tax,” Stephenson said. “We don’t transfer funds out of road and bridge and hope to never have to do so.”

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