Buchanan County officials took their lumps eight years ago, when they attempted to pass a capital improvements tax extension without a sunset clause.
Voters in these parts love an expiration date on any tax, whether it’s for schools, libraries or, in this case, economic development and county infrastructure. The county sales tax was voted down in 2011, only to be approved in a subsequent election with an eight-year limit.
This brings us to 2019. Buchanan County is asking for renewal of a quarter-cent sales tax that generates $3.5 million a year. About $1 million goes to job creation, with the remainder targeting repairs to county roads and bridges as well as upkeep on the courthouse and Law Enforcement Center.
The county takes a different approach to its CIP tax than the city, which prefers a five-year plan with specific projects spelled out for public safety, parks and roads.
The county tends to leave many of its future funding decisions to the discretion of the three-person commission. A lack of specifics leaves an opening for plenty of public skepticism, but it also creates flexibility for important projects that develop quickly, like Kansas City Chiefs camp or a business that wants to expand or leave St. Joseph.
Some of the economic-development funding from this tax gets used for infrastructure at business parks and other sites to make St. Joseph more attractive to job creators. Money also goes toward forgivable loans that help seal the deal on expansions at companies like Yellow Frog Graphics, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica and Daily’s Premium Meats. With Daily’s, $325,000 in county funds helped with purchase of land for a project that created more than 100 jobs.
This year, other uses for the tax include $700,000 for road improvements in rural portions of the county, $535,000 for sheriff’s office radios, $300,000 for levee work and $435,000 for various courthouse improvements and renovations, including a new heating and cooling system.
We like the eight-year sunset on this tax because it’s long enough to provide a degree of funding certainty for budget planners but short enough that voters have a reasonable ability to judge past performance when the issue comes up at the polls.
In this case, the sunset is especially necessary because voters don’t get a chance to see a specific list of projects prior to the election. What they do get is an opportunity to review previous spending decisions to determine if the tax was put to good use.
With job incentives, improved infrastructure and upgrades to public facilities, the county has passed this test. For this reason, we encourage voters to extend this tax for another eight years on Nov. 5.