Commission puts sales tax increase on ballot

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cape Girardeau County Commissioners voted Tuesday to place a countywide half-cent sales tax increase on the August ballot.

The half-cent increase would raise the county sales tax to 1 cent. If voters approve the sales tax, the county and Cape Girardeau special road district's road and bridge property tax would be eliminated.

The sales tax is estimated to generate about $5.8 million per year. More than half of the revenue will replace the road and bridge property taxes. It would also provide $1.5 million for both the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department and a county road paving and improvement program that commissioners will discuss Thursday.

Highway department supervisor Scott Bechtold will present commissioners with a 5-year plan for paving and improving county roads, said Commissioner Jay Purcell.

"We need a year-by-year plan so residents will know when their roads are going to be paved," Purcell said.

Roughly five miles of county roads currently are paved per year. With the additional sales tax revenue, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones estimated 10 to 12 miles of road could be paved annually.

The highway department has approximately $375,000 per year to spend on paving, nowhere near enough to pave the 300-plus miles of unpaved roads in the county.

The sheriff's department will use the additional funds to hire 10 employees and increase employee salaries. Sheriff John Jordan said the tax increase is needed to improve law enforcement inside the county.

"This tax is not a want, it's a need if we're going to continue growing as a first-class county," Jordan said. "This would allow us to enter the field of what we should be doing -- better law enforcement in the county, better courts, better security and better communications."

The Cape Girardeau Special Road District has been assured it will receive additional funding as well if the tax issue passes, said Ralph Phillips, district engineer. The district brings in approximately $1.16 million per year from property taxes. Commissioners will provide the district with $1.4 million if the tax is approved.

The district would like to start a bridge replacement program for about 20 bridges inside the city limits of Cape Girardeau, Phillips said. "About all we've been able to do is maintain what we have," he said.

If the tax is approved by a majority vote, the county's sales tax would increase to 5.225 cents. The city of Cape Giradeau's sales tax would increase to 7.475 and Jackson's would become 6.725.

The proposed tax would increase the sales tax on a $20,000 vehicle bought inside Cape Girardeau by about $100.

Asking voters to approve a sales tax is no easy task, say Jackson and Cape Girardeau city managers.

In June 2004, Cape Girardeau voters were asked to pass a quarter-cent fire sales tax. Later that year the city council asked voters to extend the half-cent transportation sales tax for another five years. Doug Leslie, city manager, said it took determination to convince voters to approve both taxes.

"From our approach it's always been very helpful to meet with all the various organizations and explain the tax and answer any questions. We made numerous presentations to citizens and made sure everyone was informed," Leslie said.

In Jackson, city officials have discussed the idea of placing a fire sales tax on a future ballot to build a new fire station. But with the county asking for a tax increase, Jackson voters may not be as likely to approve a future tax increase, said Jim Roach, city administrator. "I think will make it difficult to pass more sales taxes in the future, for whatever it may be," he said.

Purcell said the county commissioners will begin educating residents about the sales tax.

"This is the opportunity to improve county roads and the sheriff's department. It's a win-win situation," said Commissioner Larry Bock.

If approved in August, the sales tax increase would be permanent and take effect Jan. 1, 2007.

jfreeze@semissourian

335-6611, extension 246

Sales tax comparisons

Cape Girardeau

General Sales tax 1.00

Transportation sales tax .50

Capital improvement sales tax .25

Capital improvement sales tax .25

Fire safety sales .25

State sales tax (general/schools/parks/conservation) 4.225

County sales tax .50

TOTAL 6.975

Jackson

General Sales tax 1.00

Transportation sales tax .50

State sales tax (general/schools/parks/conservation) 4.225

County sales tax .50

TOTAL 6.225

Cape Girardeau County

State sales tax (general/schools/parks/conservation) 4.225

County sales tax .50

TOTAL 4.725

ELIMINATED

County road and bridge property tax .2369

Cape special road district property tax .2681

Example: Property taxes on a residence appraised at $70,000 in the city of Cape Girardeau would pay approximately $36 per year to the special road district property tax.

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