Most candidates running for office refrain from speaking out on county sales tax proposal.
Cape Girardeau County voters looking for advice on whether to support a county sales tax issue on the Aug. 8 ballot won't receive much guidance from candidates for county offices.
Only one candidate in a contested primary -- Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, seeking the Republican nomination for a fourth term -- is willing to take an unambiguous stand in favor of the tax.
"I really firmly believe that it would be a very good deal for the property owners in Cape Girardeau County," Jones said. "It will roll their road and bridge tax back to zero."
The tax, which will be called Proposition 1 on the ballot, would impose a half-cent sales tax countywide. The $5.9 million raised by the tax would be used to eliminate property taxes dedicated to roads, accelerate the county's program for paving roads and expand the sheriff's department.
"It will allow our county law enforcement to be more like a first-class county and be like Cape Girardeau and Jackson," Jones said. "In that same light, the county road and bridge department is going to be able to at least triple their road-paving capacity."
Republican voters will choose between Jones and Thomas Farrow for the county's top job. The winner will face Victor Farrow, Thomas Farrow's cousin, in the November election.
GOP voters will also choose a candidate for county clerk. Jackson Mayor Paul Sander faces Kara Clark, sales director for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, in the contest to replace Rodney Miller, a Democrat who is retiring after 28 years in office. Democrats have no candidate, so the winner of the Republican nomination is assured election in November.
There are no contested Democratic primaries for county office.
The county tax issue will be decided by all voters. Even voters who don't wish to take part in the primary elections may cast ballots on the tax issue by asking for a nonpartisan ballot.
The reluctance to take a stand on Proposition 1 doesn't surprise Jones. "They are probably scared of it," he said.
Farrow said he's undecided because he's not sure the county has made the best possible use of the money it is already spending. He said he filed for the presiding commissioner seat because he believes county roads in some areas get more attention than in others.
"I never heard nothing about county roads until I put my name on that ticket," Farrow said. "Maybe that got them on the ball. My opinion is they should have been on the ball."
Neither Farrow nor Jones have campaign much. Farrow, who works a second shift job at Tower Rock Stone in Ste. Genevieve, hasn't formed a committee to raise or spend any money for the race. Jones has a committee but has raised little money. He has attended numerous meetings with civic groups and service clubs to promote Proposition 1, but generally doesn't mention that he, too, is on the ballot.
The county commission sets the county's budget each year. Farrow said he has not seen an attempt to show why that budget couldn't be stretched to do more for the roads. "I feel I could do a better job of getting that done," he said.
The county clerk has no direct control over the county budget or setting priorities. And Sander said taking a stand on Proposition 1 would be a distraction.
"I just don't have time to be out there pushing for anything other than me getting a full-time job," he said.
Sander said he understands the need for better roads and extra help for the sheriff's department, but he won't say how he will vote on Proposition 1.
"Any time you see the word tax it is a tough sell," he said. "I've got plenty to do trying to promote my own candidacy without being there on the county tax issue. I don't think it is an issue I need to get involved with yes or no."
Clark is in a tougher spot because one of her top supporters is Sheriff John Jordan, who has pushed voters to support Proposition 1 as a remedy for high turnover, low pay and a short-handed patrol division.
"I am all for the betterment of our law enforcement and equipment and salaries," Clark said.
But she's not ready to commit herself to supporting Proposition 1, she said.
"I am still trying to do a little more research myself, just to try to see what the best positioning is on this," she said. "I would hope they would have done everything they could before they put a tax on something."
Jones said he believes the county has done a good job with taxpayer money. One argument used to promote Proposition 1 is that the county hasn't sought a tax hike in 24 years, which shows that the county has engaged in responsible spending.
And the new revenue from Proposition 1 would only be used for the items outlined for voters, he said. There will be no extraordinary pay raises for county highway department employees, he said, and no major equipment purchases.
"This money is strictly for improving and paving county roads, period, period, period," Jones said.
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