Unless an Ole Seagull misses his guess, Branson voters will soon be asked to vote on a .5% “Fire and Police Tax,” for the benefit of our firs, police, and emergency medical providers. At first blush, it seems like a no brainer “Yes” vote. In almost any other city, but Branson, a “No” vote would be like voting against, “Mother hood and apple pie.” In Branson however, based on the city’s past actions, and its failure to protect the tax proceeds from TIF capture in its recently passed enabling legislation, that’s not the case.
“But Seagull, if the law says that the tax shall be used for things ‘including, but not limited to, expenditures on equipment, city public safety employee salaries and benefit, and facilities for police, fire, and emergency medical providers’ how can they use it for something else?” “The simple answer is, ‘Because they have and can!’”
The Ole Seagull just has to believe that the city of Branson is just salivating over the new revenues they believe the new “Fire & Police Tax” will bring in to help pay off its TIF debt on Branson Landing, Branson Hills, and any new TIF projects they authorize. That’s right folks; absent a pledge to the contrary, the city will deprive our fire and police departments of the benefits of 50% of all the “Fire & Police Tax” collected at Branson Landing, Branson Hills, and in any new TIF project. Instead, that 50% will go to pay off Branson’s TIF debt.
That’s one example; here’s another. Voters approved a city tax to be used “solely for the purpose of constructing and maintaining infrastructure improvements, to include sidewalks, streets, highways, roads, waterworks, wastewater including distribution and collection systems and solid waste disposal facilities…, and the costs of operation and maintenance of such infrastructure improvements.”
They promised the voters that they would use a portion of the tax to subsidize their sewer and water rates and did so until about 2006. Then they abruptly and arbitrarily announced they were stopping the subsidy and raising water and sewer rates. Ironically, the Board of Alderman, subsequently found it appropriate to use tax proceeds from the same tax and account to pay up to $2 million per year for about 25 years to pay its “Pay for Performance Agreement” with the Branson Airport.
How could they just go back on their word to the voters and then use funds from the same tax and account to pay up to $50 million on the Airport Agreement” Once the tax is passed they can basically do whatever they want. The only recourse for citizens is to sue the city. That’s not normally within the capability and resources of the average citizen or business.
Why would the city of Branson even risk a “No” vote, when they only have two shots at something so important and could virtually insure a “Yes” vote? An Ole Seagull would be surprised if it took more than a “pledge” or commitment from the city, that, if approved in November, it will not capture any TIF from the tax unless ordered by a court to do so; will work, during the next legislative session, for a statutory amendment protecting the “Fire and Police Tax” from TIF capture; and will not authorize any expenditure of these funds that either the Fire or Police Chief objects to in writing.
“Seagull, was the first sentence of the last paragraph, a rhetorical question?” “Yes.”
“Do you think the city will issue such a pledge or commitment?” “No.”
“Then why write this column?’ “Now that’s a great question?”