County could change tax that funds disabilities board to zero

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

As a decision draws nearer on the continuation of a tax levy that funds the Cape County Board for Developmental Disabilities, the fate of the board and the future of services for disabled people in the county is anyone's guess.

Each August, commissioners review tax levy rates that fund the activities of several county boards. During a commission meeting Aug. 22, disabilities board chairman Larry Tidd requested the continuance of the tax rate of 0.077 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

"I was surprised and disappointed," Tidd later said, when commissioners Clint Tracy and Paul Koeper expressed opposition to continuing the rate for 2011. They instead proposed the rate be rolled back to zero, and both voted in favor of that. Commissioner Jay Purcell voted against it.

According to Tracy, Missouri law allows the commission to vote to roll back the tax levy to zero without voter approval. A memo sent to the commission from the county's assistant prosecuting attorney, Frank Miller, stated the commission has the authority to set the rate of the tax levy per Missouri Revised Statute 205.971.

The memo also states the statute is further supported by the courts since a past case from Johnson County, Mo., specifically states authority to set the board's tax levy rests solely with the commission and not the board. A ruling from the same case says the commission has the right to levy any amount up to the tax ceiling and does not have to abide by the recommendation set forth by the board.

Voters approved the tax to fund the disabilities board in 1975. It raises about $870,000 a year, and the board spends the money through its contracts with VIP Industries to provide sheltered workshops for disabled people in the county. In the past several years, the board has paid between $400,000 and $600,000 to VIP, with the exception of the past year, when the board stopped paying over a dispute between the two entities.

A final vote on revising the rate will be held Sept. 8 following a public hearing at 9:15 a.m. in the commission meeting quarters.

Tracy and Koeper both say they are in favor of rolling back the rate because the board is spending taxpayer dollars on attorneys working lawsuits between the board and VIP Industries and because of the board's lack of plans for expanding services for disabled people in the county. The board has around $3.7 million, about $2 million of which is reserve funds the board has put back over the years.

Tidd said the board wants to expand services but is hesitant to make definite plans because of the possibility of having to pay a large sum to VIP if the board loses the lawsuit.

The board isn't scheduled to meet until Sept. 12, after the commission's vote.

A possible answer for expanding services in the county may lie with Blue Sky Center Inc., a new local group that wants to start a sheltered workshop.

According to a statement from group representative Kevin Smith, the group will soon submit a funding request to the board. The statement said the group would partner with the board and the community to provide opportunities, environments and additional services for disabled people.

The group also said in the statement that lowering the tax levy to zero would be disappointing because starting a new workshop would require the use of some reserve funds as well as the current tax revenue.

Tidd said the group's plans could mean expanded services in the county but had no further comment because the board had not completely talked it over.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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