Countywide sales tax worth supporting

Renewal would serve multiple purposes

By The Mercury

City and county efforts to “educate” the public about the merits of renewing the countywide half-cent sales tax aren’t as coordinated as they were when they collaborated successfully a decade ago, but we’d like to believe that situation is temporary.

The slow start is understandable; both commissions agreed only this month to pursue renewal of the tax on the November ballot. Trouble is, Election Day is less than 10 weeks away.

The two governing bodies would share the proceeds, with the city to get 61 percent of the total revenue based on its population.

The county is committing its revenue to road, bridge and other infrastructure improvements. That’s been money well spent in all parts of the county the last 10 years, and we don’t doubt that will be the case again.

The city’s share will again go toward economic development, although that concept will be defined more broadly than was the case in 2002. At that time, the focus was directly on attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses expand in an effort to create jobs and improve residents’ quality of life.

Quality of life remains important, but this time, 65 percent of the city’s share will go to economic development and infrastructure, and 35 percent will go to reduce the city’s debt to lower property taxes.

We don’t think the city’s bonded debt is such that sales tax revenue is necessary to pay it down. Some of the most conspicuous economic development in the last decade — the downtown redevelopment whose businesses’ sales generate tax revenue that enhances this city’s quality of life, were built with bonds. It might be a fitting irony if additional sales tax revenue were used to pay down those bonds.

We’d rather all of the city’s sales tax revenue went to job creation. That said, we’ll concede that a sound infrastructure is an essential ingredient in a community’s growth.

The city’s share of revenue from the present countywide tax has been committed to important projects, a few of which are NBAF ($5 million of city money is helping to leverage a total investment expected to exceed $1 billion); jet service at Manhattan Regional Airport; expansions at Meadowlark Hills and Mercy Regional Health Center; and, more recently, CivicPlus, a thriving local firm that plans to invest more than $8 million in a downtown headquarters and create 250 jobs in the coming years.

It’s important to note that what is proposed is a renewal of the present tax; the overall sales tax in the county would not change. What’s more, although we won’t suggest that any sales tax is painless, the inconvenience is modest. The half-cent sales tax that is now levied and that the county and city want to renew costs shoppers a nickel on every $10 they spend in stores.

This proposal isn’t perfect. Still, we hope that when the time comes, voters don’t let insistence on the perfect block their support of a good sales tax proposal that holds long-term benefits for the city and its residents.

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