State rep. files bill that would fix local sales tax mistake

Missouri State Representative Travis Smith (R-155th district) has filed a bill that would amend a law dealing with local sales tax rates that would raise the cap that counties can collect to one and a half percent, up from one-half a percent.

Ozark County leaders were shocked to learn recently that a half-cent sales tax for law enforcement that was approved by a 2-1 margin in November by Ozark County voters could not be collected by the Missouri Department of Revenue because the county was capped out at the state’s limit of half a percent for law enforcement.

The Ozark County Times has reported on the gaff and that Smith and other government leaders were working on a solution.

Officials thought the issue would have to go back before voters for a re-vote once the legislation was corrected. However, in Smith’s bill filed in the 102nd General Assembly on Jan. 19, language was written into the bill to grandfather all local sales taxes approved by voters in the Nov. 8, 2022 General Election into compliance with state law.

The proposed bill reads “All sales tax elections conducted during the Nov. 8, 2022, general election shall be deemed in compliance with state law if the aggregate sales tax rate under this section is not in excess of one and one-half percent.”

“It looks like he is trying to fix it where we don’t have to put it back on the ballot,” said Ozark County Presiding Commissioner Terry Newton.

Newton said that State Sen. Karla Eslinger is also working on nearly identical legislation in the senate.

Smith told the Times that the proposed changes still face some potential hurdles. “I don’t want to get people’s hopes up too much,” Smith said. “We’re trying to correct something that was wrong and it stands to help law enforcement across the state.”

Smith said the bill must be read again and go through hearings and committees before coming to the house floor. If approved there, the measure would go over to the senate and then to the governor’s desk.

“We’re a Republican majority state, and Republicans are supposed to be all about backing the blue, so I would be disappointed if this isn’t passed,” Smith said.

The earliest the legislation could be passed would be late 2023, so that means no money can be collected this year.

The law enforcement sales tax, which voters approved in November by a rate of 65.45% to 34.55% would produce around $400,000 per year in revenue for the sheriff’s department.

Due to a budget crisis in 2022, the sheriff had to cut seven employees from payroll and change policy to allow for deputies to only respond to serious calls.

Ozark County law enforcement is currently funded mostly by a half-cent sales tax that has been in place for many years. That tax brings in around $400,000 per year while the law enforcement budget usually is around the million dollar mark. Officials estimate that an additional half-cent sales tax would bolster the sheriff’s department and make it self-sufficient, allowing for a full staff and adequate jailers and dispatchers to cover the county.

In the meantime, Newton said the county will continue to prop up the law enforcement funding shortfall with money coming from the county’s general revenue fund.

In 2022 $238,000 was transferred from the general revenue fund to the sheriff’s department.

County Clerk Brian Wise said Monday that, while the 2023 budget is not quite finished, the county will probably give $200,000 from general revenue to the sheriff’s budget.

Other money

Wise also told the Times about a funding windfall that will benefit the sheriff’s department.

“We applied for and have received money from the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund,” Wise said, adding that the money is federal relief money similar to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

LATCF, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, is a program that provides relief to tribal governments and “revenue sharing counties” which Ozark County qualifies as due to the federal lands in the county.

Wise said the county is receiving $234,963 from LATCF, $150,000 of which will be used to prop up the sheriff’s department this year. The county will receive a similar payment from LATCF in the next budget year.

Sheriff Cass Martin said he expects not to be fully staffed this year.

“In the meantime we’re just going to have to grit our teeth and try and keep our heads above water,” the sheriff said.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423