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St. Robert officials say tax hike for city pool won't drive their shoppers away
St. Robert officials say tax hike for city pool won't drive their shoppers away

St. Robert's proposed pool would be funded by a quarter-cent sales tax that would also support local parks in the city.
SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (July 3, 2009) — When Sheriff J.B. King and Eastern District Commissioner Bill Farnham asked members of the Pulaski County Commission to place a half-cent countywide law enforcement sales tax on the ballot, Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall said St. Robert business leaders didn’t like that idea because it would raise sales taxes in the Wal-Mart area above 8 percent and could drive shoppers into other communities.

While the law enforcement sales tax proposed by King and Farnham would have been collected countywide, shoppers in St. Robert generate more than two-thirds of the county’s sales tax revenue despite accounting for only about a tenth of the county’s population. That’s mostly due to the high volume of sales at Wal-Mart and other businesses on St. Robert Boulevard, on Missouri Avenue leading out of Fort Leonard Wood’s main gate, and on Old Route 66.

However, St. Robert City Administrator Alan Clark told those attending a Monday evening community forum that he didn’t think the proposed quarter-cent park tax increase would drive shoppers away, and noted that the city council members voted unanimously in May to propose the tax increase to voters.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say in years gone by that if the sales tax increased, whether it be here or Waynesville or whatever, people will go and shop elsewhere,” Clark said. “In this region we are the second-lowest as far as sales tax rates go … How far does it take to drive from St. Robert to some of the other points beyond to save what little bit they would, say, in Lebanon?”

Clark presented a PowerPoint slide to the audience showing that St. Robert’s base citywide sales tax rate is currently 7.475 cents, with an additional half-cent sales tax on businesses in the Wal-Mart area that pays for streets and other infrastructure that is under the control of the North Town Village/Interstate Plaza Transportation District. Similar sales taxes are also in place for the privately-owned Hidden Valley commercial subdivision in St. Robert owned by the Farris Brothers company and for the area around Orscheln’s in Waynesville.

By comparison, the base sales tax rate for the Lebanon area is 7.225 percent, the only area sales tax rate lower than the St. Robert tax rate.

Other area cities have 7.55 percent in Columbia; 7.6 percent in the Branson area and in Rolla; 7.725 percent in Waynesville, the Lake Ozark area, and the Jefferson City area; 7.85 percent in the Springfield area; and 8.241 percent in the St. Louis area.

The proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase would make St. Robert’s base tax equal to that of Waynesville, though shoppers in the Wal-Mart area would pay a higher rate of 8.225 percent.

Those rates include all state and city sales taxes levied on shoppers, but don’t include transportation district taxes. Many other cities besides Waynesville and St. Robert have transportation districts with additional sales taxes beyond the base tax. Rates for the three transportation districts in the Lebanon area, six in the Branson area, two in Waynesville, four in the Lake Ozark area, two in the Jefferson City area, nine in the Springfield area and 12 in the St. Louis area weren’t presented Monday evening.

King and Farnham had proposed a half-cent law enforcement sales tax; Ransdall had made a counterproposal last year to ask voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax that would be divided equally between the sheriff’s department and a new county economic development fund.

St. Robert city officials decided to ask for only a quarter-cent sales tax for the parks. It wasn’t mentioned at Monday’s meeting, but that would still allow the county to ask voters to approve Ransdall’s proposed quarter-cent sales tax without raising taxes above the level Farnham and King had requested.

“We did not feel it was necessary to ask the voters for a half-cent sales tax. That is a lot of revenue and it is a lot of additional tax burden on the public,” Clark said. “We sat down and identified what it was that the residents wanted and established a budget for construction of those things.”

The proposed budget had to be under $3.8 million, Clark said, and the plans drafted by the Ireland and Associates architectural firm in Rolla came in at a cost of $3,785,520 with space for an additional $1 million gym addition at a later date.

Clark emphasized that the proposed sales tax increase is directly linked to elimination of the existing city personal property tax of 0.2997 percent of assessed valuation. While residents would still have to pay their property taxes to other entities such as the Waynesville R-VI School District, Pulaski County Library District and Pulaski County Road and Bridge Department, passage of the Aug. 4 sales tax for parks will permanently eliminate the existing city personal property tax, beginning on Jan. 1 of next year.

“The only way that would ever happen again would be if down the road with a different city council or whatever, that would have to go back before the voters to reinstate the personal property tax. That is not anything that can happen by simple ordinance; that has to go back before the voters for their approval,” Clark said.

Clark said some people want to know how they can be sure the park sales tax won’t be redirected toward something else such as streets, sewers, or employee pay raises.

“This will go into a park fund; it can only be used for park improvements. It will not and it cannot by state statute be used for hiring employees or paying their salaries. It is specifically for park improvements and maintenance,” Clark said. “Let’s quit talking about it, let’s quit kicking this dog; let’s just go do it ... Let’s not wait anymore, put it up to a vote and let the people decide; that’s the best way to go.”

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