Independence leaders have put a well-thought-out plan for improved police and animal services on the Aug. 6 ballot. Good accountability measures are in place.
This is deserving of the voters’ support.
Proposition P is a straightforward idea, already adopted by about half of the cities in Missouri. It would apply a use tax to online sales, functioning the same as a sales tax. Currently, paying a sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores while letting online retailers slide by tax-free creates a playing field tilted against local businesses. Also, the city tax revenue from brick-and-mortar businesses is eroding. The use tax would offset that.
The city would use Prop P revenues for two specific areas of need – more cops on the streets and running the no-kill animal shelter.
The city has about 200 police officers and, the need for more has been clear for years. The money from Prop P money would mean adding seven or eight at the outset and then more as online sales revenues grow over time. The City Council has set a target of adding 30 positions, though even under the most optimistic economic scenario hitting 30 is probably a decade or more away.
The city also has taken over the Regional Animal Shelter. It makes sense. Jackson County was left in a lurch when Great Plains SPCA bailed, and the city is by far the shelter’s biggest user. The city had been paying more than $500,000 a year to the county. Now it’s running the show itself, and the county is – for now – kicking in some money. This new revenue would greatly stabilize that operation rather than kicking the financial can down the road for a couple short years.
The citizens of this community have made it clear that care for dogs, cats and other animals is a high priority. Just like parks and streets, that needs a steady funding stream.
These are earmarked funds, so let’s take a second to look at the mechanics. The city expects about $1.5 million a year initially – $750,000 each for police and pets. As online sales grow, that $1.5 million will grow. As revenues rise above the $1.5 million, the pet funding stays steady with adjustments for inflation and any additional monies collected beyond that go to police. That continues until the 30-new-officer threshold is reached.
Only after the 30 officers called for in the city ordinance are funded does new money go into the city’s general fund. In other words, even with strong and sustained growth in online sales, it’s likely to be a decade or more before the general fund sees a penny of added money.
The city plans citizen oversight boards for both police and pets. This is along the lines of what the city has done, successfully, for years with dedicated taxes for parks, streets and other areas. Those groups track spending and regularly report publicly to the City Council. The city has locked in the money for these two areas by both the ballot language and city ordinance. These are reasonable measures for accountability and transparency.
In Missouri, cities are forced to rely heavily on sales taxes. As sales shift – more online, less storefront – it is logical and fair to follow the sales. Independence needs this policy.