Ambulance board moving toward sales tax vote

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Proposal would eliminate current property tax levy

Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District board members have opted to move forward on calling for a public vote on a sales tax to support the district as replacement for the current property tax.

For much of the district’s history, board members have discussed how to bring territory served by the district under the property tax umbrella paid by other patrons. Specifically, McDowell and Pleasant Ridge residents pay no property tax and are covered by Barry-Lawrence by agreement with the Mercy ambulance system.

For the last two years, board members and operations directors have exchanged ideas about mounting an election and trying to convince area residents to pay for a service they now receive without paying taxes. Operations Director Valerie Wilson suggested expanding the mutual aid agreement with the South Barry County Ambulance District as a way of speeding up response time to areas on the edge of the district.

Shane Anderson, board chairman, asked to have the question placed before the district’s legal council, Frank Foster, to see if the expanded mutual aid agreement would violate the public’s trust by sending a different service, if faster. Foster, who has written many of the state laws passed by the Missouri General Assembly concerning emergency medical services, assisted South Barry County Ambulance District pass a sales tax in 2015.

Foster sent the district a 10-point talking thesis on the advantages of a sales tax. Nearly 40 districts have turned to sales taxes.

The message to taxpayers, Foster said, has been simple: “Dear Taxpayer, we are going to reduce your property taxes and increase the quantity and quality of service to you, by shifting a substantial portion of your tax burden to non-property owners and to people who come through here but who impact the costs of local government services.”

David Compton, board member, said in Monett, many people working at businesses and industries live outside the ambulance district’s tax base, but expect service if they become ill while working inside the district. “This [sales tax] allows a chance to have them share the expense,” Compton said.

Presently the ambulance district receives approximately $350,000 in property tax revenue from property tax. The next opportunity to place a tax option before the public would be in April, which would begin generating revenue next fall. Since property taxes are due by the end of the calendar year, the district would be able to drop its property tax by the 2018 billing cycle.

Passage would require a simple majority. Board members plan to consider details to call for a vote at their next meeting of Dec. 19. Foster provided them with ballot language. The only issue not yet settled is the size of the tax under consideration.

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