Recently there was a vote in Independence to raise the sales tax rate by one-quarter cent at all the shops and restaurants around Interstate 70 and Missouri 291 (except for the Bass Pro development). It takes effect July 1, 2012. This extra tax money will help pay for the construction loan for the Independence Events Center (not the operations).


That was the easily understood part.

Recently there was a vote in Independence to raise the sales tax rate by one-quarter cent at all the shops and restaurants around Interstate 70 and Missouri 291 (except for the Bass Pro development). It takes effect July 1, 2012. This extra tax money will help pay for the construction loan for the Independence Events Center (not the operations).


That was the easily understood part.


Who voted to raise the taxes? Why did they have that power? Why were the mayor and City Council silent on the topic until after the CID Board voted to raise your taxes? Who appoints the CID Board? Who formed the CID Board and left open the ability for them to raise our taxes without any public discussion?


Why are three senior city staff members on a five-member CID Board? What other options should have been considered to meet the projected shortfall? Why was the tax rate raised one-quarter cent when one-eighth would have been adequate to meet the projected shortfall? Why was there no public report on this problem before the CID board meeting and vote? Why was a decision needed in August 2011, but the tax increase does not go into effect until July 1, 2012?


Lots of questions but so little ink. Let’s look at a couple of these issues.


The CID Board has five members of whom three are senior city staff who conduct these added responsibilities while working for the city. They are acting on behalf of the city when they are serving on the CID Board. The city staff serve as chairmen of the meetings, print the agenda and clearly have total control over items voted on.


In this case the mayor and council members knew about the pending vote, yet none uttered a single word, comment or opinion before the CID Board – which few people in town even knew existed – voted to raise taxes.


The city clearly has three-fifths of the members on the board so it controls critical issues such as raising taxes – a tremendous amount of power as most tax increases are voted on by the public, not a sub-committee of city government. Controlling the CID board also puts a responsibility on the city to make sure an open, visible process occurs instead of one meeting to discuss and decide the issue without any time for public comment or awareness.


The only notice of the pending CID board vote (other than the posting on the bulletin board at City Hall as required by law) was an Examiner article the day before the voting, which occurred due to a tip (from an ex-City Council member).


Not the correct way for elected officials to keep the citizens informed of issues such as tax increases. In a particularly bad economy. When we just laid off city staff. When many citizens are discussing a possible tax increase to hire more police officers (which I generally agree with). When there might have been other options.


With all the Tea Party discussions around the nation, where is the civic debate about Independence raising taxes without explanation, any chance for public input or even the most minimal of public disclosure? We seem to be mad about the national deficit, but what about the self-inflicted wound of $4 million/year to deal with the Bass Pro development (without any public explanation as to how we got into trouble or how we are to getting out of trouble).


Why did the city committee decide to raise the taxes one-quarter cent instead of one-eighth, and why did it take this action 11 months before it was necessary?


After the city raised your taxes the city manager was asked to comment at a council meeting (based on questions raised by an ex-council member) at which he said that the city committee acted at this time so that if the recommended action of raising taxes had failed at the committee meeting there would have been time to consider other options. What other options might those be, and why weren’t they on the table at the meeting? Could we refinance the Event Center using the historically low interest rates? Could we push the obligation into the future and thus seek the revenue of better economic times? If there are other options why didn’t the city committee look at them?


Both the bond documents available on the Internet, as well as the comments by the one committee member who voted “No” – you guessed it, a non-city employee – indicate that if a tax increase was needed that it should have been only one-eighth of a cent. It appears that would have covered the projected shortfall for several years.


The city raised the tax rate higher than was needed to meet the shortfall.


I have tried to hit the highlights, but this seems to be an example of keeping big issues that might not be “good news” out of the public view. Never have local taxes been increased so much by so few with so little discussion.


And to beat all, of the four votes in favor, three were cast by city employees who effectively “control” the “independent” board.