The committee studying the Independence public safety sales tax has started looking at possible ballot language to ask voters to renew that tax.
Some on the committee are pushing for more specifics on how the money would be spent.
“Folks I’ve conferred with, they want to know what they’re getting,” said committee member Mark McDonald.
The public safety sales tax, one-eighth cent each for fire and police service, expires in 2016. The committee is to make a recommendation to the City Council this fall – the consensus is to keep the tax at its current level, probably for 10 years – and the issue would likely go on the ballot in 2015.
McDonald says the tax has been intended for capital improvements – larger investments in items of enduring value – and wants to get the funding more in that direction. He suggested no expenditures of capital improvements money less than $3,000.
The 2004 ballot issue said capital improvements but also gave examples of related, smaller-ticket items. State law says a capital improvement is anything that lasts two years or more. The tax does not pay for personnel, so it would not pay an officer’s salary but could pay for his uniform, service revolver and squad car.
McDonald argues that goes too far, using the example of paying for nametags.
“We said we were going to do one thing, and we turned around and did something different,” he said.
Others pointed out that the city has followed the state law and argued that it’s followed the ballot language.
Still, McDonald said, that kind of spending has hurt bigger issues – such as the need for a new or refurbished police headquarters – “because we nickeled and dimed away those budgets.” He said he’s worried about getting the tax renewed and worried about how it might be portrayed by opponents.
Police Chief Tom Dailey said even renewing the tax wouldn’t begin to pay for a new police building. The department badly needs the tax – about $1.8 million a year – for ongoing costs. “We’re just staying even,” he said.
The committee took no action on McDonald’s $3,000 idea, but another member of the committee, Laura Dominik, seemed to support for the idea of a set list of projects and said she would take a crack at drafting some ballot language. The committee meets five more times before forwarding its recommendations to the council.
Jackie Todd, a member of the committee, said the focus needs to remain clear – public safety.
“That has got to be the prime thing for the police and fire,” she said.
Also Wednesday, Mayor Eileen Weir told the group that the possibility of sales tax cuts coming from the state could hammer the city’s budget and change the conversation about taxes such as the public safety tax.
Weir described 10 bills in particular, all passed on the last day of the General Assembly, a week after adoption of the state budget. Those bills exempt various items – marine fuel, amusement park admissions, farmers markets, commercial laundries and equipment for broadly defined “data centers” – from state and local sales taxes. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed those bills, saying legislators failed to account for the loss of revenue that would blow a hole in the state budget.
For Independence alone, the governor’s office estimates, the loss would be close to $6 million – “annually and permanently,” Weir said. That’s more than $5 million to the city’s $75 million general fund and $698,000 for the community improvement district at the Independence Events Center.
Legislators hold a veto session next month, and Weir, like many other local officials around the state, has been urging local legislators to let Nixon’s vetoes stand.
“If some of these go through, or they all do, it going to change how we talk about sales tax going forward,” she said.
Weir seemed to suggest it would be hard of legislators to muster the two-thirds votes that would be needed in both the House and Senate to override the vetoes.
“There’s a lot of concern about how it was done,” she said. “There were no hearings. ... Those last few hours of session are wild. People made mistakes.”