Franklin County Courthouse

Despite past failure, Franklin County is considering another attempt at a use tax for online purchases.

Taking the tax out for vote in 2021 or 2022 was discussed at a Thursday, Dec. 31, commission workshop meeting. The tax would include the entire county, both cities and unincorporated areas.

“We need to level the playing field with the businesses we have in Franklin County,” Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said. “The merchants and landlords are trying to make a go of it, but they’re getting beat by 10 points on the dollar.”

Commissioners said they would like money collected from the tax to be used to shore up county 911 services.

“One thing we can do is prop up 911, because we all know that is a bucket that is going dry,” Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson said during the workshop.

In April 2014, a proposed Franklin County use tax was rejected by voters by nearly 20 percent -— 5,075 against and 3,426 in favor. That election attracted only 13 percent voter turnout.

At the time, Brinker was among the commissioners who said they were encouraged by the vote, since the use tax had no organized campaign but still garnered significant votes in its favor.

Then-Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer added that momentum for the use tax was hurt by then-Second District Commissioner Mike Schatz becoming ill, according to Missourian archives. Schatz passed away in 2015 after a battle with cancer.

The 1.5 percent tax would have gone into effect if a person made out-of-state purchases of more than $2,000 in a year. Part of the reason for considering the tax was because people were being encouraged to buy cars in Illinois to avoid paying sales tax. 

The county considered another vote on a use tax in 2016, but decided to move forward with a plan to maintain its sales tax on vehicles, boats and motorcycles purchased out of state.

Cities in the county also have put use taxes before voters, with the tax being rejected by voters in Union twice in recent years.

In 2018, Proposition 1 failed by a count of 789-621.

City officials admitted the tax might have been difficult to understand. They also said the measure wasn’t promoted heavily.

Union came back with Proposition U in June 2020, an election pushed back from April because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was more clearly promoted as a 2 percent tax on goods purchased online and in catalogs with a physical presence outside Missouri. The tax would help city parks.

But it too failed, this time by a 446-282 margin. The 38.7 percent of voters who favored Prop U was a decrease from 44 percent who supported the similar measure two years earlier.

Officials said efforts were hurt because planned forums on the tax had to be canceled because of the pandemic.

Brinker hopes that a vote across the entire county would have more success.

“We need to get it countywide,” he told The Missourian.