Use tax will help to level the playing field for local retailers

    The city of St. James announced last week that it is considering placing a two percent use tax on the November ballot for voters’ approval. The tax would be placed on online and mail orders of goods that are shipped to St. James residents.

    “We call it a use tax because the tax is paid where the article or the item is used, consumed, (or) delivered. Unlike a sales tax, where you pay at the point of purchase, this one you pay where you receive it,” City Administrator Jim Fleming told the St. James City Council. “What this does is it levels the playing field for our local retailers. Currently, when you buy from a mail order company online, you are paying state use tax, but not county or municipal. This would allow us to collect our municipal’s equivalent of our sales tax.”
    Revenues generated through the tax would help fund the police department, establish animal control, benefit streets, and provide for other needs.
    The current ballot language under consideration for the tax would read: “Shall the City of St. James impose a local use tax for the improvement of animal control, public safety, street, sidewalk, and tree maintenance, and park improvements, at the same rate as the total local sales tax rate, currently 2.0%, provided that if the local sales tax rate is reduced or raised by voter approval, the local use tax rate shall also be reduced or raised by the same action? A use tax return shall not be required to be filed by persons whose purchases from out-of-state vendors do not in total exceed two thousand dollars in any calendar year.”
    Creating local use taxes has been a trend throughout Missouri as a way to make up for lost revenue when local residents shop online. Local retailers are already collecting sales taxes, but online retailers typically collect only state taxes. If approved by voters, online retailers would also be required to collect the two percent St. James use tax, which puts them on equal ground as local businesses.
    A special council meeting will be held on August 20 to finalize the language so the issue can be added to the November ballot for a public vote. Between now and then, however, the council should really consider if November is the best time for this vote.
    The city typically doesn’t have any type of election in November, meaning election costs will be higher than if the vote were held in April during the normal municipal election. Plus, Phelps County (and Rolla) is also planning a use tax vote in November, meaning voters will have to decide on two possible tax increases, which is not the best situation for getting a St. James use tax passed.

Many should follow rancher’s lead
    Crawford County cattle rancher Rachel Hopkins, who is an Extension specialist in Washington County, recently received the first Conservationist of the Year Award from Women in NRCS (WIN). Her work should be an inspiration to all area ranchers.
    WIN awarded Hopkins for her efforts to conserve and improve land and water on the 1,100 acres of pasture and timber that she and her father own. WIN is an organization founded by female employees of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
    Hopkins had undertaken a major project to add fencing and water to her cattle pastures to manage cattle grazing and keep the herd out of a small creek that flows into Huzzah Creek in southeastern Crawford County.
    According to a news release from University Extension, Hopkins and her father worked with the Nature Conservancy, Ozark Land Trust, Missouri Department of Conservation and a local landowner committee to obtain funds through the federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) program. The funds are from a legal settlement with southeastern Missouri lead mining companies. They can be used for conservation efforts and restoration of natural resources.
    The NRDA funds helped pay for equipment and labor to remove timber and bury trees in the creek bank to slow erosion. Root wads face upstream to divert water and reduce sediment loss. This will stabilize 1,000 feet of creek bank when the project is completed in August.
    Hopkins also works with USDA and the Missouri Department of Conservation to curb the feral hog problem in Missouri. She and her father trap and kill feral hogs on their property with assistance from USDA hog trappers. Feral hogs can carry diseases, damage property, and cause soil erosion and poor water quality when they wallow in the ground and streams. The elusive, aggressive hogs travel in groups. Ten hogs can root up to 10-20 acres per night.
    Congratulations to Rachel and everyone who made this project possible. It’s a project that many other area cattle farms should try to imitate.