A New Sales Tax for Law Enforcement in the Lake of the Ozarks
There is a one-quarter cent sales tax increase on the ballot for August 3rd in Camden County. The extra revenue would go to the county sheriff’s department. The sheriff has been promoting the sales tax increase as a way to hire more officers, retain current officers (via a pay increase), and improve the department generally. Public safety costs money, and if the people of Camden County—the largest county in the Lake of the Ozarks region—want more law enforcement in their community then increasing funding for the sheriff’s department is the most direct way to do that.
I have no doubt that the sales tax is being proposed in order to make sure that tourists pay their “fair share” of the costs for greater law enforcement in the area. The Lake is one region where either a sales tax or a property tax increase is going to raise significant tax money from non-permanent residents, with either tourists paying the sales (and lodging) taxes or vacation homeowners paying the property taxes.
But back to the sales tax increase. Residents know better than anyone if increased or better law enforcement in Camden County is required. They and the tourists (like me) will pay for it. But is there money available outside of a tax increase? Here are some things to consider:
- Online sales tax collections are coming (officially) to Missouri, which will increase local tax collections starting in 2023.
- Parson just signed the gas tax increase, which (assuming it survives legal challenges) will further lead to more money for counties. (The money raised has to be used on roads, but that loosens up other tax revenues.)
- In the short term, Camden County is set to get almost $9 million from the stimulus plan. That is, shall we say, a lot of money.
- Housing values are soaring, and even with the required tax rate rollbacks, there will still likely be noticeable local property tax collection increases.
Leaving aside this increased future revenue, are there other ways to increase funding for law enforcement in Camden County without tax increases?
I would suggest two things. First of all, get control of the generous tax subsidies granted to developers in the region. That is tax money that is given away to private interests instead of going to public services. The Lake Ozark region has currently promised TIF subsidies of $395 million. $395 million! To be clear, because the TIF reports don’t give addresses, and because many Lake of the Ozarks cities are in multiple counties, I can’t determine how much of that is within Camden County itself. But undoubtedly it is a very large amount of tax subsidies over the next decade or so, very likely in the hundreds of millions. That is tax revenue that could have been used for public services, including law enforcement.
Another option is greater consolidation of 911 emergency dispatching services, like Miller County and many other Missouri communities do. Camden County law enforcement agencies appear to operate their own dispatching services, which is an area ripe for economies of scale and cost savings.
But in the end, the choice, as it should be, is up to the voters.