Opportunity for civic involvement

Friday, January 12, 2007

The first part of 2007 does not lack in opportunities to participate in local government. In the next two weeks, alone, area citizens have the opportunity to make their views known concerning the 2007 county budget and a possible local use tax.

The budget hearing is scheduled for Jan. 22 at 10 a.m. in the Barry County Commission chambers. At that time, the commissioners will be considering officeholders' requests and establishing a spending plan that will reach close to $4 million this year. As in the past, the county's budget is always conservative with careful consideration given to how taxpayers' money is spent. The Commission, as well as county officeholders, have established a reputation of being good stewards of tax dollars. The budget hearing is held to give taxpayers an opportunity to offer their views on how their money is spent. Typically, these hearings are only attended by the officeholders and media representatives, but we'd always love to see more citizen involvement.

Along these same lines, the Commission will be hosting another public hearing to gather citizens' input on the possibility of placing a local use tax on the April ballot. The county, like most individuals and businesses, is faced with the fact that costs are rising. To combat this, commissioners have researched various revenue-generating proposals and believe a local use tax would provide the county with a revenue boost while affecting local consumers very little.

During a hearing on Jan. 18, the Commission will provide information on the use tax, which is already in place in Lawrence and Stone counties, and field questions about its ramifications. Our initial reaction to the proposal is positive. The tax would only be applied to purchases made with out-of-state vendors and would not have an significant impact on business or industry. According to Lawrence and Stone county officials, local citizens there are virtually unaffected by the tax. A local use tax would generate approximately $200,000 a year for county government and county roads. It would also level the playing field for local businesses by taking away the advantage of buying products out of state to avoid paying taxes.

Area voters should also note that the county does not receive a single penny from personal or property taxes. Barry County is totally dependent on a half-cent sales tax for general revenue, a half-cent sales tax for roads and fees charged for services. The county has not benefitted directly from the housing boom in the area but is required to provide services, such as adequate roads and law enforcement protection.

We urge area residents to mark Jan. 18 on their calendar and plan to attend the public hearing on the local use tax. Your input will give the Commission guidance and you'll be educating yourself about the plans of your local government.

And finally, area residents should remember that filing for city and school board positions remains open until next Tuesday, Jan. 16. Running for local office is the perfect way to effect change at the grassroots level. Last week, we reported that few of the city races were contested thus far. We are pleased to report that two new filings were made this week that create races in Cassville. Tracy (Swofford) Holly has filed for mayor against incumbent Jim Craig and Jan Anthony has filed for south ward alderman and will be running against Sue Brattin. We always believe it's best for voters to have a choice when they make a trip to the polls. A robust ballot produces higher voter turnout, and ultimately increased civic involvement.