Blue Springs extension of sales tax would pay for streets

By Mike Genet

Blue Springs’ elected officials agree: The city needs to try again and seek voter approval for the use tax, and it should do so in the April 2021 election.

Further, they want to specify that revenues go toward street maintenance.

The City Council didn’t vote on the matter Monday but directed city staff to prepare a ballot measure ordinance the council would later approve.

Blue Springs, along with Independence, asked voters in April 2018 to approve a use tax – applying city sales taxes to internet sales – and the measure failed in both cities. Independence asked its citizens again in August 2019, with the money going to add police officers and support the animal shelter. 

That attempt succeeded, and for Blue Springs council members it provides a blueprint of sorts. In their case: more funds to keep up with street maintenance.

“We’re seeing more and more delivery trucks on our streets,” Mayor Carson Ross said, and while they slowly add to the streets’ wear and tear, the city doesn’t collect sales tax revenue from those purchases.

“I get it, it’s convenient,” the mayor said. “I’m guilty of that myself sometimes.”

“But we have not kept up on doing the overlay program, and this would certainly put more money into that.” 

Council Member Jerry Kaylor said he noticed four Amazon delivery trucks, three U.S. Postal Service vehicles, two from FedEx and one from UPS “just in cul-de-sac today alone.”

Assistant City Administrator Christine Cates said Missouri Department of Revenue estimates showed the city missed out on $650,000 in 2019 because it didn’t have a local use tax, which would match the city’s current 2.5 percent local sales tax. From that tax, 1 cent is for the general fund, and a half-cent each goes toward parks, public safety and transportation, which helps with street repairs. 

In 2016, Cates said, that estimate was $475,000.

“And I think you’re going to continue to see that because of COVID-19,” Ross said.

Kansas City has had a use tax in place for years, and Liberty and Grandview citizens have recently approved it. Liberty geared its use tax funds for an animal shelter and parks maintenance.

Council Member Susan Culpepper attributed Independence’s success last year to a particular use.

“They had a specific bucket they were going to put that money in,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe voters would go for simply adding to the general fund. “They want to know where their money is going.”

According to city documents, Blue Springs budgeted $2.5 million for the pavement management program this fiscal year and $2.8 million in 2018-19. The year before that it dedicated funds toward improving an increasingly crowded portion of Roanoke Drive, and in 2016-17 it budgeted $2.3 million for the street rehabilitation program. A pavement surface study performed a couple years ago helps city staff plan for which streets will receive repairs or resurfacing. 

“Philosophically, I agree,” Council Member Galen Ericson said about asking for the use tax to help street maintenance, “but I don’t want to be negative on Amazon on UPS, because they’ve done a huge service during” the pandemic.

Council Member Kent Edmondson said he hoped the city could ultimately bring back the household hazardous waste and recycling program in some form. 

“I think streets would probably carry it, but it’s something to maybe look at and see,” he said.

“If you just keep it simple on the ballot,” Council Member Ron Fowler said. “That’s the best way to go.”

The council on Monday also discussed when to ask voters to renew the half-cent parks tax scheduled to expire in September 2022, though they agreed asking in April 2021 along with the use tax would be ill-advised. City staff is finalizing plans on what projects they hope to accomplish if voters renew the parks tax, including a possible new aquatic center.

Edmondson also questioned if possibly being the only ballot question could affect voter turnout.

City Administrator Eric Johnson said the staff has set aside about $70,000 in the upcoming budget to fund a possible election. If other jurisdictions in Eastern Jackson County place something on the ballot, the city’s cost could go down. 

Council members also agreed that an education-based campaign for the use tax would work best, rather than trying to urge a “yes” vote.

Kaylor said he hoped to see some campaign material of myths and facts. The last time, he said, “There was nothing to alleviate the myth of it.”

“I think educational material is all it’s going to take,” Culpepper said, adding that the 2018 use tax campaign had a lot of fruitless spending. “When it comes to the streets, I don’t think you have to say a whole lot about it; it sort of speaks for itself.”