By Josh Mitchell
Missourian Staff Writer
Local voters will decide April 8 whether to approve a countywide use tax.
The Franklin County Commission on Tuesday voted 2-0 to put the measure on the ballot.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer and First District Commissioner Tim Brinker voted in favor of putting it on the ballot.
Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz was absent.
Griesheimer and Brinker touted the tax as a way to help local businesses and bring more revenue to the county’s coffers.
Griesheimer explained that the 1.5 percent use tax would be divided evenly between the county’s three sales tax funds of law enforcement, general revenue and road and bridge.
Moreover, Griesheimer wants voters to know that there will be specific uses for the money and that it will not be a “slush fund.”
In fact, he said the use tax revenue could go toward paying down the county’s debt, which is currently $51.86 million with principal and interest combined.
Internet purchases are also subject to use tax, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue.
The county does not have a chance of passing the tax if it does not tell the voters how the money will be specifically used, Griesheimer said.
“It would be earmarked specifically for specific purposes,” Griesheimer said.
The use tax would be charged when someone bought an item out of state without paying a sales tax and then brought it back to Franklin County, according to officials.
Griesheimer said there is no double taxation. So if sales tax was paid in another state, then the use tax would not have to be paid when the item was brought back to Franklin County, Griesheimer said.
For the use tax to apply, out-of-state purchases within a calendar year must exceed $2,000, according to Griesheimer.
Without the use tax, the county will struggle to maintain services, and there would have to be cuts until the debt is paid down, Griesheimer said.
Brinker agreed, saying, “The use tax is a very important mechanism as it relates to providing services for our constituency.”
Griesheimer added that Warren and Washington counties, which border Franklin County, already have a use tax. The city of Washington also has a use tax, and it is 2 percent. The state use tax is 4.225 percent.
Local Auto Dealers
Local auto dealers would benefit from the tax by not being put at a competitive disadvantage with out-of-state dealers, Griesheimer said.
Brinker said he has received calls from auto dealerships in favor of the proposal. They have expressed interest in helping with the use tax effort, Brinker said, adding that small businesses are also in favor of it.
If the county does not have a use tax, out-of-state dealers can entice local shoppers to buy vehicles from them to avoid sales taxes, Griesheimer said.
Online companies are also reaping the benefits of not having to charge sales tax on items shipped to Missouri while small, local businesses are put at a disadvantage, Brinker said.
Indeed, Mike Sutherland, a former state representative from Warren County, recently made a presentation on the use tax and said people don’t generally have to pay sales tax when they buy a vehicle out of state.
But the use tax would allow the county to capture that revenue by taxing the vehicles once they are brought back to Franklin County.
Officials hope this will take away the incentive for people to buy their cars and trucks in Illinois. It will “level the playing field” for local dealers to compete, Griesheimer added.
How the use tax campaign will be executed is still being worked out, Griesheimer said, adding that it will involve speaking to civic groups such as the Rotary and Lions clubs.
He said he has a couple of people in mind who may be able to help educate the community on the tax. He would not reveal who is being considered because he wants to ask them first.
Griesheimer has previously said that donations could possibly be raised to pay Sutherland to spread the word about the tax, but that is still being considered.
It is important for the public to know that the use tax is not a tax on everyone, just on specific uses and purchases, Griesheimer added.
The county is trying to get the use tax passed in the wake of recent changes to the state law dealing with counties collecting sales tax on out-of-state vehicle purchases.
The new law allows counties without a use tax to collect sales tax on out-of-state purchases of vehicles, boats, outboard motors and trailers for the time being. But voters must be given a chance to repeal that tax by November of 2016.
But instead of putting that sales tax to a vote, Franklin County is opting to put the use tax on the ballot. This way, the county could collect the tax on vehicles, boats, trailers and outboard motors purchased out of state as well as other items.