If the City Council hopes to gain approval for a use tax in November, the group knows it must first explain how it would spend the money.
The council agreed Monday to use potential revenue from a use tax to pay for street repairs and capital investments for public safety, such as equipment and buildings for the police and fire departments.
"If we don't designate it, it goes into the general fund and vanishes," council member Barbara LaBass said. "Hopefully this can make it so people know we want to fix the streets and help out our police and fire departments."
Both Buchanan County and city officials have placed use tax measures on the Nov. 6 ballot. If passed, the city use tax would be levied at the same rates as local sales taxes — 2.375 percent — with revenue going to the general fund. Buchanan County seeks a 1.1 percent tax.
City and county officials argue the use tax would remove an advantage out-of-state businesses currently have over local ones. Currently, a customer who purchases a car from Kansas currently does not pay sales tax if they register the vehicle in Buchanan County. Before a Missouri Supreme Court decision created the tax loophole, the city collected roughly $450,000 per year in taxes from out-of-state auto sales, while Buchanan County collected about $250,000, according to City Manager Bruce Woody.
The tax also applies to purchases of supplies and equipment from outside the state for construction projects.
City staff has estimated its tax would generate $2.9 million to $4.9 million per year.
Mr. Woody said the wide range could be explained by major projects. For example, large one-time jobs like the recent construction of a pipeline through Buchanan County required the purchase of mass quantities of out-of-state goods. In Platte County, construction of Kansas City Power & Light's Iatan II power plant added use tax revenue.
"Construction projects drive it quite a bit, but they can vary a lot," Mr. Woody said. "After a few years, we'll get a better idea of what the baseline might be."
Council members were unanimous in their choice for how to spend the money if the tax gains voter approval.
"I'd like to see us designate it to streets, because we're so far behind on that," Mayor Bill Falkner said.
Council member Jeff Penland suggested addressing public safety needs as well. Because the revenue amount will likely vary, staff recommended using the funds for capital projects instead of employee salaries. Simply, revenue could pay for fire trucks and police cars, but not firefighters or police officers.
The recent St. Joseph Community Survey indicated streets and public safety were the largest concerns for St. Joseph residents.