Panel faces decision Thursday on placing use tax issue on ballot

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 5/19/21

HERMANN — Barring a special session, the Gasconade County Commission tomorrow will have to decide if it wants to place a joint use tax proposal for county government and the Enhanced 911 …

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Panel faces decision Thursday on placing use tax issue on ballot

Posted

HERMANN — Barring a special session, the Gasconade County Commission tomorrow will have to decide if it wants to place a joint use tax proposal for county government and the Enhanced 911 program on the August special election ballot.

Thursday’s session is the last regular session in which such an order could be adopted; the deadline for placing issues on the August ballot is Tuesday. The Commission did not mention the use tax issue at last week’s session. County Clerk Lesa Lietzow again reminded county administrators of the May 25 deadline.

The Commission and the E-911 Board of Directors agreed several weeks ago to jointly seek voter approval of a 1.375-cent use tax, a sales tax applied to online purchases. E-911 administrators estimate that the .375-cent portion of the tax — the same amount as the existing E-911 general revenue sales tax — would generate about $90,000 a year.  County officials estimate the 1-cent portion — reflecting the county’s existing general revenue tax — would provide about $125,000 a year.

A vote in August would be the seventh time county government has asked for voter approval for a use tax in the past dozen or so years. When it was first proposed, county officials estimated it would generate about $57,000.

A use tax as a source of revenue for county government has taken on greater significance during the coronavirus pandemic, which has sparked an explosion of online purchases by county residents. A key concern for county officials is to what extent online shopping will continue after the pandemic subsides.

While the joint approach to seeking a use tax might prove more beneficial to county government, hoping to draw on the general wide public support of the E-911 program, it is also unavoidable. State law requires county government to ask for the use tax on behalf of E-911 because it was county government that sought voter approval of E-911’s existing general sales tax. That was because at that time the 911 program was part of county government and operating under the auspices of the County Commission.

If the Commission moves forward with the issue, it will be up to Lietzow as the county’s chief elections official to draft the language that will appear on the ballot. It probably would look a lot like the language used in 2005 in Marion County when that county sought a 1and 1/8-cent use tax. That ballot language said the use tax was proposed to “eliminate the current sales tax advantage that non-Missouri vendors have over the Missouri vendors…”

The use tax is a two-part tax in that it requires out-of-state merchants to collect and remit the tax and it requires residents who spend more than $2,000 on out-of-state purchases to submit a use tax return. However, as Missouri Department of Revenue personnel recently confirmed to county and E-911 officials at a meeting to discuss the matter the provision for individuals reporting their purchases is purely voluntary.

That was a main selling point in the county’s earlier efforts to win a use tax — that is, unless you spent more than $2,000, you didn’t have to worry about the use tax. But, with the increase in online shopping, the main thrust likely will be the need to capture the sales tax dollars not being collected by the vendors.

“This (ballot) language is going to be critical,” said E-911 Director John Adams at the meeting several weeks ago with county officials.

Meanwhile, county officials are feeling the frustration some businesses are experiencing as they try to fill positions. As of last Thursday, the county had received no applications for brush-cutter job in the county’s Road Department. That position became vacant recently when the brush cutter was tabbed to fill a truck driver’s position that because available after a retirement.

The deadline to submit an application for the position was last Wednesday. Absent any new interest, Lietzow pulled from the files two applications received for Road Department jobs in 2020 — noting that it’s unclear if either of those applicants still had an interest in the brush-cutter job or if they still are available.

Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, noted that he has asked Veterans Affairs officials to consider having a representative at the courthouse one day a month. The VA previously had a representative at the courthouse; but that person died and wasn’t replaced. Now, the VA has a representative in Owensville one day a month.

Miskel marked last week being National Police Week by recognizing the work of the local law enforcement agencies in Gasconade County. “I want to thank our county’s law enforcement, the municipalities and by the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “They do a heck of a job; they put their lives in danger every time they walk up to a car, every time they walk up to a house.”

Miskel praised the work done by Sheriff Scott Eiler, who took office in January. “I just want to say: Good job.” 

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