by Valerie Verkamp
This week, a divided Platte County Commission chose to ask voters to renew a 3/8 cent transportation sales tax.
The tax will be on the ballot at the April 2 election.
Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, proposed allocating a portion of the 3/8 cent sales tax toward emergency radio infrastructure.
Brown said now is the appropriate time to designate a revenue stream to cover the hefty cost of the federal radio mandate and if the county does not consider the few remaining funding mechanisms, then the county is significantly limiting itself.
Brown pointed out that the county has not established a means to fund the emergency radio infrastructure past 2015. Brown said he fears that renewing the road tax without allocating a portion of those funds to pay Motorola for the county's radio system would hinder the county's ability to make the required $1.2 to $1.5 million annual payments two years down the road.
“We need to be ready to meet that challenge in 2015,” he said.
Brown indicated the county's options were slowly dwindling and rather than increasing a sales tax he suggested the county allocate a portion of the revenue generated from the active 3/8 cents sales tax toward the cost of radio infrastructure.
The 3/8 cent sales tax was adopted in 2003, and is set to expire in September of this year.
The recently elected commissioners agreed that all revenues derived from the tax should go directly to the roads.
“I think the county's transportation system is one of the most critical functions our government provides,” said Duane Soper, second district commissioner, who for more than 20 years served on the board that governs the Platte City Special Road District.
Soper said in recent discussions he was told by city officials and numerous road districts that they didn't feel stripping the revenue derived from the3/8 cent tax was a “proper avenue” to fund the radio infrastructure.
“I tend to agree,” said Soper.
Beverlee Roper, first district commissioner, also said she feels that taking money away from the roads would be a mistake at this time.
“I watched the roads literally change in the last 10 years in Platte County,” said Roper. “It has been amazing. I have always been for renewing the roads tax until we get these projects done.”
Roper indicated that a decade from now would be a more appropriate time for the tax to expire.
“Obviously the functions of government are life, liberty, and property and if are going to protect life we have to get there,” said Roper. “The sheriff can't get there without this.”
As for a plan to pay for the emergency radio infrastructure, Roper and Soper at a public meeting with road district and municipal officials last Wednesday night indicated they would prefer to put an additional 1/8th cent sales tax for the radio infrastructure on the ballot in August. That new tax would then be used to pay the $1.2 to $1.5 million annual payments for the radios.
If that August radio tax fails, Roper and Soper indicated they would then support raising the county’s property tax rate from one cent per $100 assessed valuation to at least seven cents per $100 assessed valuation.
The revenue generated by the 3/8th cent road sales tax is divided in half with a portion going to the incorporated cities within Platte County and the other half going to the unincorporated areas of the county.
Before a vote was tendered, several citizens voiced their concerns about the renewal of the tax.
“We do not support raising taxes in Platte County through a mill levy increase, an additional sales tax or the renewal of a sales tax,” said Jacque Cox, who chairs the Platte County Republican Central Committee and who spoke on behalf of Timothy Thompson, who serves as the vice-chair of the Platte County Republican Central Committee.
“It is disingenuous to say that renewing the 3/8 cent roads sales tax is not an increase when if nothing is done it will naturally sunset in September. Let the tax end as scheduled,” Cox said.
“Working families in Platte County are paying higher federal taxes, higher health care expenses and more for other necessities. Families have learned to live on less and the county should do the same,” Cox continued.
Cox said the commission has not provided taxpayers with any evidence “to justify a new 10-year roads sales tax.”
When voters approved the tax nearly a decade ago, 38 bridges were labeled deficient, 17 roads were designed for substantial improvements, and the maintenance of the entire transportation system was to be addressed by allocating monies to the rising cost of infrastructure, said Greg Sager, Platte County public works director.
But as soon as road projects began, it became apparent that the revenues derived from the tax were overly projected, while cost estimates for the road improvements were under-estimated.
Rather than generating $65 million in revenue, the tax brought in $51.5 million. That is 22 percent less than originally projected.
Despite the shortfall, Sager said the county was able to accomplish all of the road projects by designing the projects to be more cost conscientious, said Sager. Twenty-one bridges in Platte County were either replaced or underwent massive repair work.
Additionally, five significant road projects were completed including improvements to Barry Road, North Congress, Tiffany Springs, and Green Hills Road.
Sager says although many projects have been completed since the tax was first approved, the road system in Platte County still requires significant improvements.
“The current safety, capacity, operation, and maintenance needs of Platte County's transportation system are significant,” he said.
The director of public works said he has identified four major road projects and other improvements that should be accomplished over the next 10 years, including the replacement of 15 bridges.
But if the tax simply expires later this year or voters elect not to renew the tax, Sager said there will no other funding mechanism to adequately fund these projects.
“I believe this county has proven we can be fiscally responsible by efficiently using tax money to address to most pressing necessities without adding luxury,” said Sager.
Cox suggested the commission begin placing proposed measures on the November ballot, when there is a larger pool of voters who participate in elections, thus a stronger representation of the public's voice.
The request was disregarded by the commission. On a split vote, the Platte County Commission elected to once again place the 3/8 cent sales tax before the public in April without allocating any portion to fund the radio infrastructure.