Faced with a gloomy financial outlook for the state transportation department that makes improvements to Highway 15 in Scotland County highly unlikely, local advocates for upgrading one of the main transportation routes in the county are considering taking the matter into their own hands.
The recently formed Highway 15 Coalition has already discussed forming a Transportation Development District (TDD) to allow a local sales tax to be proposed to fund local transportation projects.
On Thursday, the coalition members heard from representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation about the possibility of leveraging such local tax dollars to receive state funding.
MoDOT representatives discussed the department’s cost share program, which annually funds approximately $25 million in projects, with a 50/50 cost share with the local communities.
The group discussed the possibility of raising half of the roughly $2 million estimated cost for constructing four-foot shoulders on Highway 15 through a local sales tax, with the other half of the costs being footed by MoDOT’s cost share program.
Officials explained that the program is highly competitive, with each of the state’s eight transportation districts limited to just two projects per funding cycle.
Coalition member Dr. Jeff Davis expressed some hope that the program might help generate support for the formation of a local TDD.
“I’m sure there are plenty of people out there, when they hear about a proposed local sales tax for transportation, they’re going to say no, it is MoDOT’s responsibility, let them pay for it,” Davis stated. “If that is the case, it is pretty clear nothing is going to get done.”
Representative Craig Redmon seemed to back up that belief when he was asked the likelihood of the legislature coming up with increased funding for MoDOT. Redmon stated he didn’t expect lawmakers to be able to come up with a solution, especially in an election year when many were battling for their jobs.
“That is why the idea of the TDD combined with the MoDOT cost share program has me so excited,” Redmon told the gathering. “Local folks provide half of the funds and leverage it to get the other half from the state. They can see their tax dollars at work. It is tangible results instead of the sense of paying into a black hole and feeling like they’re getting nothing in return.”
The MoDOT officials indicated that cost share funds were already allocated for 2018 and 2019, but funds were available in 2020.
Davis noted that with initial projections from the county that a county-wide 1/2 cent sales tax would generate approximately $200,000, the necessary $1 million to fund the county’s half of a MoDOT cost-share approved project, would take just five years to secure.
MoDOT’s financial representatives noted that the Missouri Transportation Finance Corporation offers loans that can be repaid in such instances, if the project was to move forward before that projected five-year timeframe to generate the revenues.
Currently Scotland County has a 1.25% sales tax rate on top of the state’s 4.225% sales tax, for a total of 5.475%. That compares favorably to surrounding counties where the sales tax rates are 6.225% in Schuyler and Putnam counties, 6.725% in Clark and Knox counties and 7.35% in Lewis County.
An additional 1% sales tax in the City of Memphis raises the total sales tax to 6.475%, which is below the 7.225% rate in Lancaster, 7.725% in Kahoka and Edina, 8.35% in Kirksville, 8.725% in Queen City or the 9.35% in Kirksville districts which includes special sales taxes for transportation.
Members of the coalition expressed interest in creating a TDD to pursue the possibility of a cost share project with MoDOT to upgrade Highway 15.
The earliest a sales tax proposal could be placed before the voters would be April, with a January deadline to get the issue on the ballot.
A December 14th meeting has been proposed at the Scotland County Courthouse to consider moving forward with the proposal. MoDOT officials have been asked to provide refined cost estimates for constructing the four-foot shoulders, as well as information on how similar TDDs formed for Highways 36 and 63 were funded initially during start up.
Initial funding would have to be raised to pay legal fees to form the TDD with the Secretary of State’s office and prepare the ballot language.