On Tuesday, voters will have the chance to re-instate a tax that Barry County officials say will level the playing field between local and out-of-state businesses while providing the county with additional revenue for law enforcement and roads.
A county-wide out-of-state use tax is being proposed on the April 3 ballot. The tax replaces the local sales tax that is lost on goods or materials that are purchased out of state. 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 state to make purchases and have them shipped back to avoid paying sales tax.
According to Barry County Commissioner Cherry Warren, the proposed use tax could generate $200,000 a year in additional revenue that would be split between general revenue and roads.
Specifically, half of the money, according to Warren, would be earmarked for law enforcement. When the county's new E-911 system goes on-line, county residents will expect improved emergency response times, which cannot be realized without additional road officers.
Warren said the use tax was considered by the Commission as the best option for increasing county revenue in the face of rising costs.
"The fiscal use tax is a method by which a local government acquires additional revenue in a way that has very little impact on the average consumer," said Warren. "This is also not a new tax. It's a reinstatement of a tax we had from 1992 to 1996."
The commissioners also support the proposed use tax, because they view it as a way to support local businesses by eliminating the incentive of shopping out of state to avoid sales tax.
"Basically, the use tax levels the playing field between local merchants with out-of-state merchants," said Warren. "This is a pro-Missouri tax and a pro-Barry County tax."
Before voting to place the use tax issue on the April 3 ballot, county commissioners held a public hearing to discuss the issue. Only one citizen attended the hearing and voiced his opposition to the tax measure.
The ballot issue is titled "Out-of-State Use Tax Proposition." It reads as follows: "Shall the County of Barry impose a local use tax on out-of-state purchases to eliminate the current sales tax advantage that non-Missouri vendors have over Missouri vendors at the same rate as the total local sales tax rate, currently one percent, provided that if the local sales tax rate is reduced or raised by voter approval, the local use tax rate shall also be reduced or raised by the same action? A use tax return shall not be required to be filed by persons whose purchases from out-of-state vendors do not in total exceed two-thousand dollars in any calendar year."
Currently, 34 counties in Missouri have a use tax, which generated over $14.6 million in revenues last year. Both Lawrence and Stone counties are among those who assess the tax.