Litigation over sales taxes administered by many southwest Missouri cities was dropped last week by Farmington attorney Thomas Burcham. With suits pending against Mt. Vernon and Purdy and a case proceeding against the city of Joplin, Burcham said legislation proposed in Jefferson City would resolve his concerns.
State Representative Steven Tilley, from Perryville, and State Senator Kevin Engler, of Farmington, floor leaders in each of the General Assembly's chambers, announced last week that they would back legislation addressing Burcham's concerns about "stacked taxes."
Burcham has been suing cities for having taxes passed that exceeded 1 percent for general operations and more than a half-cent for capital improvements. Burcham claimed multiple taxes exceeding the limit were illegal, despite approval by voters.
Tilley and Engler said they would support putting the limit into law for future taxes and grandfathering existing taxes.
Both Mt. Vernon and Purdy have gone back to voters to have taxes in those towns reallocated for different purposes.
Monett attorney Don Trotter, who represented the city of Purdy in the litigation by Burcham, expressed satisfaction at the decision to drop the suits. He took a different view of the Farmington attorney's action.
"Burcham was about to lose," Trotter said. "The day he dismissed the suits was the day he had to make a deadline in the Joplin case. He couldn't make it. We had him, and he knew he was beat."
Trotter gave credit for the resolution to the St. Louis law firm of Cunningham, Vogel and Rost, which Purdy hired as special legal counsel in the city's case. When Circuit Judge Robert Wiley read the city's submission, running close to 80 pages, he withdrew his previously issued injunction against the city and planned to set a new hearing date.
"The Vogel law firm was working statewide," Trotter said. "They were representing all the cities. They had three attorneys working on the case full time. That makes a big difference. They did a fantastic job."
In the November election Purdy voters approved breaking one of the city's two one-cent sales taxes into two half-cent taxes, one for capital improvements and another for street maintenance, to eliminate the grounds for Burcham's suit. Trotter said Purdy city officials decided to split the tax anyway.
"It makes allocation of city funds easier," Trotter said.
Even though the case has been resolved, Trotter had issues with the way Burcham had pursued the matter.
"Burcham made statements to the press he had been contacted by people in Mt. Vernon about their sales taxes," said Trotter. "I doubt very strongly he know anybody from Mt. Vernon. He said the same thing in court about Purdy. I feel strongly no one in Purdy called him or even know who he was. I feel he fabricated the foundation for his case to make some money."
Purdy officials are "very happy" to have prevailed in the case, Trotter added.