The Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax is on the ballot Tuesday. It’s collected across Jackson County, and officials are asking for renewal for seven years.

The Community Backed Anti-Drug Tax is on the ballot Tuesday. It’s collected across Jackson County, and officials are asking for renewal for seven years.
COMBAT is a quarter-cent sales tax that has been in place for 20 years. The money goes into a fund separate from the county’s general fund, and it’s earmarked for prosecuting and preventing drug-related crime. In addition to paying for police, prosecutors, courts and jail space, much of it is given to dozens of local agencies and school districts for prevention and treatment programs. The tax is expected to generate about $19 million this year.
A simple majority is needed for approval. COMBAT was first approved in 1989 with 67 percent of the voters saying yes, and each time it’s been renewed, more than 60 percent of the voters approved. Voters last renewed the tax in 2003, and it currently runs through March 2011. This extension is through March 2018.
Some of the sharpest questions coming to county officials have been about holding an $800,000 election now instead of rolling it into the primary election next August or the general election in November, since the tax doesn’t expire for another 18 months. But officials stoutly defend pressing ahead now, arguing that if the money were to go away, the many agencies need time to try to line up any funding from elsewhere.
The county itself would be looking at deep staff cuts. For example, the tax pays for 44 of County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar’s 200 employees and about one-third of his overall budget.
Waiting a year could also complicate the county’s finances and planning. County Executive Mike Sanders plans to roll out his proposed 2010 county budget in two or three weeks. If he was on the same schedule a year from now, for the 2011 budget, and voters decided at that time to take away the tax, the budget would have to be redone in haste – with notably less money and fewer employees.
Officials also argue that in November 2010, COMBAT would be low on a long ballot, behind what’s expected to be a hotly contested U.S. Senate race in Missouri, plus races for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Missouri General Assembly and several statewide ballot initiatives. Many voters, they point out, never get all the way through the ballot, merely voting for the handful of races or issues they care about. Voting now puts COMBAT squarely in view for the voters, they say.
The ballot language also slightly changes the program. It says the money would go to fight and prevent “drug-related offenses and violent crimes.”
Kanatzar said it’s too early to tell if that means an expansion of the program but said he’s hearing, for example, from police chiefs who want help to stop gangs.
If he’s looking at a case, he said, he has to make a judgment about whether drugs are involved and if COMBAT-funded resources can be applied to it. Even if drugs are involved in a case, that can be hard to determine at the outset of an investigation. This change gives a little more flexibility.
“It allows us to use my staff ... more as utility players when we need them,” he said.