Although voters soundly rejected the city of Desloge’s proposed “use tax” in the Aug. 7 election, City Administrator Dan Bryan believes it will appear on a future ballot, but until then he hopes to help educate city residents in understanding what the measure is about and why it’s something worth voting for.
Desloge’s ballot proposition would have authorized the city to impose a local use tax to help offset sales tax lost from sales on out-of-state internet websites like Amazon.com, but 457 voters who favored the use tax were unable to overcome the 702 voters who opposed it.
Thinking back on the loss in his office Tuesday morning, Bryan admitted it was “disappointing” that the use tax didn’t pass muster with local voters.
“It was roughly a 60/40 split by voters,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is that both the board and I want to reintroduce it. We made a lot of good progress with educating the residents and the voters. I think you could see a turn in what they thought they were reading. When their eyes saw ‘tax,’ their eyes shut down.
“They didn’t want more taxes, but once people started reading they saw it was just an attempt by the city to collect money we have coming to us — or we feel we have coming to us — just like every other city in the state of Missouri is wanting that same thing.”
According to Bryan, public opinion was beginning to turnaround about the proposition once people realized the city simply wanted local businesses to be able to play on a level playing field with their online retail counterparts.
“Every small business — every business, period — in town has to follow the same tax guideline on allocating those funds back to where they’re supposed to go,” he said. “Every business here in Desloge is doing that and is required to do that, so why not get that money like small businesses are doing from the multi-million-dollar super-giants on e-commerce. It’s only fair that these guys do it as well. So, I’m hoping that somewhere down the road we’ll revisit that because I think it’s only going to increase the amount of money that we’re missing out of our sales tax and revenue tax. It’s only going to keep growing.”
The higher than usual voter turnout for a primary election across the state is believed to have been largely due to Proposition A appearing on the ballot. People across the state turned out in droves to overwhelmingly vote ‘no’ on the measure that would have made Missouri a right-to-work state where workers would no longer be forced to pay union dues or join a union as a condition for employment.
Asked if Desloge residents who came out to vote no against “right to work” might have also voted against the use tax due to an already negative mindset, Bryan said, “It’s possible. The turnout was unusually high because of Prop A. Despite all of our efforts, with things like our Desloge Drive project and any other thing that’s going on in town, we reach out to the newspaper, we talk to the local radio stations, we post on social media, we post on our city’s website — and yet still today I have people ask me, ‘What’s going on with Desloge Drive?’ or ‘When are you going to fix those ripples up there by Johnny’s Barber Shop?’
“Because Prop A failed quite drastically, we may have had people who didn’t know about the issue and maybe didn’t read the issue fully. You look at it and go, ‘We’ve done everything that we can to reach out. And even with this tax issue — we did all those things that I mentioned plus we did a mailing to every home here in Desloge and had a public meeting. So, what else do you do to reach out?
“You hope you find those newspaper readers. You hope you find those social media folks. You hope you find those people who search the internet and go on the city’s website to look at whatever. Then you hope you find those people who listen to the local radio stations. And if you can’t find them in any of those avenues, you hope you can find them through the mail and that they read their mail, or they might attend the public meeting.”
The question for Bryan and the city’s board of aldermen is where do they go from here and how do they increase the odds for the proposition’s passage the next time it appears on the ballot?
“It’s hard to say, but I think it all comes down to continued education on what the use tax is,” he said. “I think it will pass once people understand that we’re not asking for any more money out of their pockets — we’re only asking that when they do make these online purchases in other states that these companies are required to apply the same tax as all the businesses here in Desloge.”
“We made a lot of good progress with educating the residents and the voters.” — Dan Bryan, city administrator
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org