Independence voters Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a no-sunset renewal of the existing half-cent sales tax for street repairs and construction, with nearly 82 percent voting for a perpetual tax.
Out of 7,083 total votes in the special election, 81.65 percent approved the renewal (5,783 votes), with 18.35 percent (1,300 votes) in opposition, according to unofficial results from the Jackson County Election Board.
Only Independence and Grandview had ballot measures in Eastern Jackson County. The Election board reported turnout in the two cities at just more 10 percent.
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said she was confident citizens would vote to renew, but the wide margin surprised her.
“I would never have predicted 82 percent,” she said. “People have told us over and over (in citizen surveys) that roads are one of their top priorities, and they certainly backed it up with their votes today.”
The street sales tax first was approved by voters in 1998, then renewed in 2002 and 2007. The current tax, which generates about $8 million annually, would not have expired until the end of 2019, but city officials wanted to try for renewal now so the city could have assured funds to seek matching state and federal grants for future projects. Applications for those grants often are made a couple years in advance of funding.
Officials also wanted to seek a tax without a sunset in order to avoid future renewal requests for a perpetual need and budget priority. The city maintains the ability to repeal the tax in the future if it so chooses.
City Manager Zach Walker said the perpetual renewal allows the city to make some long-term budget plans with confidence.
“That was one of the critical reasons the committee that reviewed this recommended we seek it as perpetual,” Walker said. “Anymore, that's what cities are doing, to make sure they can get the matching dollars.
“I think everybody recognizes streets and sidewalks and bridges as a necessity for any city, and now we make can make sure they're top-quality.”
Weir said that if anything, shooting for a perpetual tax might have caused some concern, but now with a solid renewal, “It takes the pressure of future mayors and councils to renew this tax.”
In the past, Independence voters have approved perpetual, dedicated sales taxes for stormwater and parks. With all three dedicated taxes, a citizen oversight committee has been appointed to check that the city spends revenues appropriately.
According to the city, the street 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 included Little Blue Parkway, Jackson Drive, 35th Street between Noland Road and Crysler Avenue and the ongoing intersection remake at Missouri 78 and Truman Road.