For the third time, Independence city officials seek a renewal of the half-cent sales tax for street repairs and construction.
The renewal question is the lone ballot measure for Independence residents in the Aug. 8 election. The street sales tax was first approved by Independence voters in 1998 and extended in 2002 and 2007, but this time the city seeks a renewal with no sunset – that is, the tax would continue beginning in 2020 until it is repealed, if ever.
Though the current street sales tax doesn't expire until the end of 2019, city officials want to seek renewal now so the city will have assured funds to seek matching state and federal grants. Applications for those grants often are made a couple of years in advance of funding.
“That's the big thing,” City Manager Zach Walker said. “It would not be financially prudent to make applications without those funds.”
Also, the tax has been a dependable revenue source for a city function that will never go away.
“Roads are one of the most basic things we do,” Walker said. “We'll always have them.”
“Certainly, it's essential to our operation – not only our streets but our entire operations,” Mayor Eileen Weir said. “It's always No. 1 in our citizen survey; public safety and streets are always the top two things.”
According to city information, the sales tax has paid for more than $49.6 million in street overlays over the past 11 years and allowed for 18 bridge replacements since 1998. New construction or widening projects during that time include Little Blue Parkway, Jackson Drive, 35th Street between Noland Road and Crysler Avenue and the ongoing intersection remake at Missouri 78 and Truman Road.
By the time the current tax expires, Weir said, the city will have repaved every street in Independence – more than 500 miles, save for the miles handled by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
This month, the city repaved the rattling intersections at Sterling Avenue and Winner Road, and Truman and Liberty Street. Several more intersections are planned for this year.
“We've just had tremendous leadership in Public Works,” Weir said, mentioning current director Tim Gramling and predecessors Howard Penrod and John Powell, “and we've really leveraged this sales tax money effectively. It's not just about appearances; it's safety and controlling traffic.
“The oversight committee's been in place the entire duration of the tax,” she said, referring to the citizens group appointed to make sure the tax revenue is spent appropriately. “I think the public feels those assurances are there.”
When the City Council approved street sales tax renewal for the ballot in May, it also could have voted to seek a 2 1/4-cent use tax for out-of-state purchases, but it postponed that vote indefinitely, with a possible eye on the November ballot.
Weir said it will take more investigating before putting that question before the voters. Some council members also had expressed concern about jeopardizing the street sales tax renewal.
“Taking a chance that it influences, in any way, the public with this street tax, is not one that I think we should take,” Tom Van Camp said at that council meeting. “The publicity and the work of the committee should be brought forward that we need this sales tax for our streets.”
Weir said she tries to avoid being overconfident about anything for an election, knowing how hard they can be, but she has not heard much negative communication from citizens about the proposed tax renewal that might give her pause.
“I'm confident the people who live and work in the city know how important streets are,” she said. “We've done (sales taxes without sunsets) with stormwater and parks; people know these are perpetual needs.”
If the question fails in August, Walker acknowledged the two-year span also gives the city time to possibly, if desired, to go back to the ballot or make contingency budget plans.
“It gives you that window to regroup and refocus,” Walker said.