ROLLA — Phelps County and its two largest cities have only one question on the ballot Nov. 5 — whether to start collecting a tax for online sales known as a use tax.
Phelps County, along with Rolla and St. James, are reporting sales tax revenue that is lagging behind expenses. They all place the blame on consumers increasingly moving toward online shopping, where there isn’t any sales tax paid.
That’s creating problems with paying for basic city services like the police and fire departments.
The tax would be 1.125% in Phelps County, 2.25% in Rolla and 2.5% in St. James.
Kate Wachter, of the police spouses group Behind The Badge-Rolla, is advocating for passage of the use tax. She said the Rolla Police Department is understaffed, and the additional revenue will reduce the chance of her husband being hurt on the job.
“Those chances increase when you’re working overtime and you don’t get the time to rest and when you’re dealing with increasing violence and increasing drugs,” Wachter said.
Rolla has committed to using revenue from the use tax to help fund public safety, specifically to replace its communication radios and increase the salaries of police and firefighters.
The starting wage of those jobs in Rolla is about $10,000 less than other communities within 50 miles.
Opponents of the measure say that their taxes are already too high, and that the city should look for other cost-saving measures.
Some in the business community in Phelps County are getting behind the tax.
Annie Bass, a Realtor in Rolla, said her community's future is dependent on the measure passing.
“It’s a way of keeping up with the revenue necessary to continue to run a city whose revenue base, whose economy, is based on the revenue collected from taxes,” Bass said.
More than 260 Missouri cities and counties already collect the use tax, which varies by municipality.
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