Let a judge decide

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander recently told the Cape Girardeau County Commission that he is prepared to take the county to court if no compromise can be reached in the dispute involving hundreds of thousands of dollars in road and bridge tax revenue.

After much discussion, it seems obvious no compromise will be reached. A good solution to resolve this matter would have been for Jackson and the county to jointly seek a judge's ruling, a step the city was willing to take. But without the county's cooperation, Jackson has little recourse except to go to court on its own.

The months-long dispute centers on this: Jackson believes it is entitled to some of the road and bridge tax funds collected by the county from Jackson residents. That amounts to about $80,000 a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

Some legal opinions expressed so far maintain that Jackson is entitled to 25 percent of the funds collected from its residents. That opinion is shared by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who said so in February.

But the county rejected that notion, saying that the state's 25 percent rule only applies to special taxes which require voter approval.

The commission voted not to give Jackson the road-bridge tax revenue, and the Jackson Board of Alderman gave Sander the authority to move ahead with litigation.

Commissioner Joe Gambill said the county would defend its position "vigorously." Saying he was disappointed with the commission, Mayor Sander said Jackson is going after "everything owed us through state statues, no more, no less."

Both sides believe they have good arguments. Going to court to resolve the dispute should be viewed as the best recourse. It's an opportunity for both sides to present their legal argument and then let a judge have the final say.

If Jackson pursues a court decision, the ruling would have statewide ramifications. Most first-class counties give cities a portion of road-bridge tax revenue.

There is another important issue at stake as well. If a court rules in Jackson's favor, the county could owe the city revenue dating back to 1997, when the county obtained first-class status. That's hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money.

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