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Voters will have chance to decide use tax

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Barry County Commission voted on Monday to place a local use tax proposal on the April 3 ballot.

According to Presiding Commissioner Cherry Warren, the use tax is not new to Barry County. In fact, the county assessed a local use tax from 1992 to 1996 until the State Supreme Court declared the tax unconstitutional.

"This would not be a tax increase but a reinstatement of a tax we had that was taken away from us," said Warren.

After the Supreme Court ruled the local use tax invalid, the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill in May of 1996, which rewrote portions of the use tax law that the court had ruled unconstitutional. The state law now allows counties to reinstate the use tax at a rate equal to the county's sales tax. The use tax must be approved by a majority of voters living in the county.

If approved, the use tax would be collected on purchases totalling more than $2,000 a year from out-of-state vendors. The tax would be assessed on catalog or internet purchases or against those who travel out of the state to make purchases and have them shipped back to avoid paying sales tax.

According to Warren, the average consumer ordering from a catalog company would pay very little use tax.

Stone and Lawrence counties already have a use tax in place, and commissioners from both counties report their citizens have been impacted very little by the tax.

Barry County predicts it would collect approximately $200,000 a year from the use tax. The money generated would be divided evenly between general revenue and roads.

The decision to place the issue before voters in April came just a few days after commissioners hosted a public hearing on the issue that attracted comments from one citizen.

Bill Gracy, of Cassville, attended the meeting and voiced his opposition to the local use tax.

"The idea that the impact (of the use tax) is not going to be very big is wrong," said Gracy. "A $200,000 hit out of the county will be felt.

"I believe if everybody is going to get services then everybody should pay for it," said Gracy, who advocates an increase in the county sales tax.

"I think the use tax is going to screw a few people out of a lot of money rather than all the people paying a little," said Gracy.

The Commission thanked Gracy for attending the hearing and offering citizen input.

"We appreciate your opinion and your comments," said Warren.

In announcing their decision to pursue a use tax, Barry County commissioners all agreed that the use tax would be the fairest way to raise revenues for a growing county.

"As our county continues to grow in population, it requires more services," said Warren. "The fiscal use tax is a good way to increase revenue with the least impact on citizens in the county."

Southern Commissioner Eddie Davison said he supported the local use tax because it leveled the playing field between local merchants and out-of-state vendors.

"The way the tax is designed is to eliminate the benefit of shopping out of state," said Davison.

"This is a pro-Missouri tax and a pro-Barry County tax," Warren added.

As the vote on the use tax draws nearer, Warren said the Commission plans to hold informational meetings around the county.



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