Tax brings more than expected

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Consumer infatuation with gift cards has padded Cape Girardeau County's bank account.

The county imposed a new sales tax Jan. 1, but because tax on gift card purchases isn't collected until the card is redeemed for merchandise, the county is profiting.

Sales taxes are paid to the state before being passed on to local governments, and the county just received the tax collected by most merchants during January. The total, $415,412, is much more than anticipated. "It is a heck of a lot more than I thought it would be," Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said Monday.

"We got a good surprise, didn't we?" Commissioner Larry Bock added.

The sales tax money is being used to provide better pay and more deputies for the sheriff's department and an accelerated road paving program. It also replaces property taxes for county roads. The strong initial collections -- the county received $26,311 in February that wasn't expected -- means the total for 2007 could easily exceed the $4.3 million expected in the county's budget plan. Because county receipts lag about two months behind the actual collection of the tax, the total for 2008 is expected to exceed $6 million.

Even before the unexpected extra money arrived, commissioners started looking at how to speed up paving projects. The County Road and Bridge Advisory Board has recommended that the county experiment with chip-and-seal surfacing to control dust and stretch county dollars.

"Our opinion is we can't do it fast enough," Jones said during a meeting Monday morning with Scott Hilton of Clever Stone Co. in Clever, Mo. The Christian County-based company is under contract to apply chip-and-seal surfaces to Perry County roads. Cape Girardeau County has about 6 miles of roads ready for asphalt paving this year. The advisory board wants to identify up to 10 miles of additional roads that need little or no additional work to use the chip-and-seal method.

County road-paving projects have used hot mix asphalt for the surface. Rock is mixed with hot oil and applied in a thick layer. A layer of oil is applied to chip-and-seal roads before rock is spread over the oil. A few days later, another layer of oil is applied to seal the road surface.

Compared to the $100,000 per mile estimated cost of asphalt roads, chip-and-seal costs can range from $25,000 to $35,000 per mile, depending on how much preparation is needed to make the road ready, Hilton said.

"Chip-and-seal on a decent base road and you can get five to 10 years' life out of it," he said.

The large sales tax receipts could give the county the extra funds needed to add chip-and-seal to this year's road program.

March receipts for the road paving sales tax, which went into effect Jan. 1, were about $300,000 less than the amount the county received for its general revenue sales tax, which included December sales at smaller retailers. If the two sales taxes start generating nearly equal amounts each month, the county could end the year with almost $700,000 more than the budget anticipated.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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