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Voters in Columbia, Boone County to decide on use tax in special election

In August, the Columbia City Council and Boone County Commission approved putting a use tax on the Nov. 7 ballot.

It’s Proposition 1 in Columbia and Proposition U in Boone County.

A use tax captures revenue made on purchases outside the state or country without a physical presence in Missouri. The state of Missouri already collects a use tax.

Not all businesses collect a use tax. If they don’t, the consumer is responsible for self-reporting to the Missouri Department of Revenue if the purchase exceeds $2,000. This is due every year by April 15. The state already requires this for its 4.225 percent sales tax rate.

“The primary payer of that tax are developers and people doing big construction projects because there are lots of consumables for that,” said Columbia city councilman Michael Trapp, who says he supports the tax.

City manager Mike Matthes recommended back in July that Columbia put the question of a use tax to voters. He said the use tax could offset the decline in sales tax revenue due in large part to the rise in online shopping.

Online shoppers don’t pay local sales tax, and city leaders have said that in the past 10 years, it has been estimated that the city has lost out on nearly $11 million because of it.

Former city councilman Larry Schuster says the “excuse” that the city is losing revenue to internet sales is “pretty weak.” He said he believes the city should be spending the money it does have more wisely.

He pointed to this summer’s discussion about $2 million in additional revenue that the city received that wasn’t earmarked for anything in the budget. City manager Mike Matthes recommended they use $1 million to pay city workers a one-time payment, and the rest was set to be divvied up to different organizations and projects around Columbia.

“Their priorities are upside down,” said Schuster. “We need to be taking care of the fundamentals.”

Boone County voters have already approved a use tax on automobiles, boats and trailers.

Now they’ll be voting on whether to expand that to other goods they buy. The use tax rate for Columbia will be 2 percent, and the use tax rate for Boone County would be 1.75 percent. Both of these are the same as the local sales tax rate, although the sales tax rate for Columbia can be much higher in some taxing districts.

The city could receive about $900,000 a year if the use tax passes. County auditor June Pitchford estimated the county would receive $1.28 million in the first year.

The cities of Ashland and Harrisburg also have a use tax provision on the ballot.

Boonville, Moberly and Fayette have a use tax provision in place. Callaway and Randolph Counties also have a use tax.

There will be 43 polling places in Boone County and one central polling place at the Boone County Government Center where any registered voter can cast a ballot.

Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks estimates a turnout of about 10 percent because Columbia, Ashland, Harrisburg and Boone County only have one issue each on the ballot.

The current election costs are coming in right at $200,000, Burks said.

Schuster said he thinks having a special election with such a low projected voter turnout is a “disgrace” and “decietful.”

“It certainly does not respect how hard-earned those tax dollars are,” said Schuster.

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