Bollinger Co. pushing to make sales tax permanent

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bollinger County voters will decide Tuesday whether to make a nearly 4-year-old half-cent sales tax permanent. County officials say they need the money just to tread budgetary water.

"We're not asking for a sales tax increase. We're just wanting to maintain what we've got already. And if we don't get it we'll probably have to make some cuts," Presiding Commissioner Wayne Johnson said.

The tax brings in about $280,000 annually, which accounts for roughly 27 percent of the county's budget, commissioners said.

Johnson said that four years ago the county was $180,000 in debt with a courthouse that needed both a new roof and expansion. Today, all those problems have been remedied because of the tax which goes toward the county's general revenue.

"I feel it's needed just to stay up to where we are now and not to fall backward," Commissioner Larry VanGennip said.

The county relies on three half-cent sales taxes, which account for 80 percent of its total budget.

One county revenue stream, though, will increase whether voters approve the tax or not. The percentage of property tax going toward county government is scheduled for an automatic increase after five years at a reduced rate.

The increased property tax will add $125,000 annually to county coffers.

Leaders hope the added funding will eventually allow the county to upgrade its 911 service. Currently, a caller placing an emergency phone call is redirected to the county sheriff's office. Many Missouri counties have Enhanced 911, which allows an operator to trace the call, among other features.

"We hope that's something we can do in the future," Johnson said.

Johnson added that the Missouri Association of Counties is working with legislators on a bill that would tax cell phone users to help poorer counties pay for Enhanced 911. Johnson believes it would cost $60,000 to $80,000 to purchase the equipment to start the service.

But the commissioners hope voters will recognize the county values their tax dollars.

"I think the majority of the residents in the county that know what is going on realize we have been good stewards of the money and been very conservative with it," Commissioner Wayne Whitener said.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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