Bill Wayne's Political Pages - The Gadfly
Gadfly 35
Printed in the Warrensburg Gazette March 9 & 16, 2000

The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.

Dear Editor

On February 29th, I attended a session on the proposed county use tax dedicated to paving gravel roads. The media called it a public information session, but the folks there thought it was just a committee meeting for them to discuss how to promote the tax. There are two major portions of the issue - what the money is to be used for and where it comes from.

According to the County Commission, the receipts will be set aside in a special paving fund, administered the same way they handle the 1/2 cent bridge tax. They will then use the money to pave various gravel roads throughout the county. They have a map identifying roads that they call "connecting roads" (which don't all connect paved roads).

The Commission will select each year which road or roads will be paved using two criteria, traffic count and "fairness." "Fairness" means that paving will be spread around the county, even if all the highest traffic counts are in Warrensburg township. Traffic counts are being taken by students using county-owned counters, and one Commissioner assures us that potential additional traffic will be taken into account.

It appears that the county would initially be able to pave around 3 miles per year, based on what airport road and NW501 cost (although costs can vary considerably with oil prices, terrain, etc.). This does not include roadbed preparation or maintenance. While the Commission expects to collect a minimum of $100,000 a year based on what Warrensburg already collects, they don't have a real handle on how much money would actually be received.

The drawbacks are that the Commission really isn't sure what roads will cost to build & maintain. They believe they will do a better job of laying asphalt than was done on NW501, which is pretty bumpy. On the other hand, their record on managing the bridge tax fund is reasonable, and they seem to be interested in building roads that will hold up rather than doing a lot of miles that won't last.

So, the first decision a voter must make is whether the concept of paving roads is worthwhile. If it is, the next step is how to pay for it. I'll address that in another letter.

Part 2, Published 3/16

In a previous leter, I addressed the paving part of the county use tax/paving vote. The second, and more problematic, part of the road paving project is the funding source - the use tax itself. The question advocates are being asked is, "is this a new tax?" The answer, as best I can tell, is "it depends." The information available from the Missouri Department of Revenue via their website is confusing, to say the least. I am told, without any specific documentation, that some large mail order houses may already collect tax by building it into the cost of their goods. In most cases, I believe the tax will be new.

However, as a typical consumer you will not pay use tax unless in a given year you order over $2000 in goods to be shipped from out-of-state vendors; then, you must self-report the tax. For example, if you order a $2500 computer and it's shipped in from New Jersey, this will add $37.50 to the $100 state and $37.50 city tax you're already supposed to pay. If you buy (& pickup) the computer in Overland Park, you won't. If it's shipped in from Kansas City, you've probably already been charged sales tax.

A use tax would fall most heavily on businesses that order things like store equipment from out-of-state. It doesn't affect anything that would be exempt from sales tax if you bought it in Missouri, such as certain manufacturing equipment, farm equipment, or resale items. It would definitely be an additional tax for businesses that already must pay use tax for state and city (if within Warrensburg city limits). Since it would apply to businesses inside and outside of the city, neither would gain an advantage; however, any additional costs would have either be passed on to consumers in price increases or be absorbed by the business from its profits.

We are told that the City of Warrensburg collected $100,000 from their 1.5% use tax last year. The County would receive at least what the City received, plus additional tax generated from other areas of the county. Since the tax is not based primarily on predictable consumer spending patterns, receipts could be quite variable, with a consequent effect on the amount of road work done. Other alternatives for money for paving might come from additional sales or property taxes, which many would find even more objectionable than a use tax. However, if the County were to pass a sales tax increase in the future (for a jail?), the use tax would also increase!

Before you vote on April 4th, you'll need to decide if the paving project is worthwhile and if the use tax is the proper method to pay for it. It's worth some thought.

Note: The tax/road project passed in every precinct by a substantial margin

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