The Board of Aldermen has brought forward a transportation sales tax proposal in Ozark, MO. I’ve been on the Board of Aldermen (city council) in Ozark now for almost a year. Wow, what an education it has been! Before running for council I took for granted clean water, toilets flushing into who knows where, the Community Center (The OC), the parks, the Christmas parade, a competent police force, fire protection and good roads. Now, for me, the curtain has been pulled back. I see just how incredibly huge a job it is to provide all of these services! I also now see how incredibly EXPENSIVE it all is… and that we can’t afford all of it.
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Many folks who live in Christian County are aware that the Christian County Commissioners are in the process of changing the way revenues from the county’s transportation sales tax for road maintenance will be divided and spent within the county. Previously, funds from the county transportation sales tax have been automatically divided between the county, the Special Road Districts within the county, and the cities of Ozark and Nixa.
That automatic division of the funds is ending leaving a gaping hole in the budgets of the cities and Special Road Districts. Several of the Special Road Districts have stated that they probably won’t survive. The Ozark Special Road District will have the lion’s share of its paving budget ripped from its coffers because of this move, and the City of Ozark will have its county road tax revenue taken away as well.
Add this to the increased mileage of roads the City of Ozark has acquired over the past 15-years, and you will understand why the City can no longer afford to keep up with even the basic road maintenance responsibilities of our transportation system. How many of you reading this can think of several areas of road in disrepair near where you live or work? In know I can.
I was recently asked if the City of Ozark has ever tried to create a dedicated source of funding for its roads like Springfield and Nixa do. The answer is “no,” and now Ozark’s roads are paying the price.
As a result, the City of Ozark will be placing on the April 2nd, 2013 ballot a question to voters to support a five year, three-eighths (3/8) of a cent sales tax which will be 100% dedicated to the repair, replacement, and maintenance of existing roads and the repair, replacement and construction of sidewalks within the City.
Now, before you groan “oh, no, not another tax request”, bear with me and understand what’s happening.
View Larger MapThis initiative is very similar to the transportation sales taxes already in place in Nixa and Springfield, both of which have led to tremendous roadway improvements as indicated by the blue “Completed as Promised” signs we have all seen around these other communities.
At a recent Board of Aldermen meeting, Ozark Public Works Director Larry Martin stated that “a 3/8 cent dedicated transportation sales tax would generate enough funds to implement a 15-year maintenance catch up plan.” Ozark has roads that are literally falling apart in areas. We have entire subdivisions where the roads were improperly built by the developers that need to be completely ripped out and replaced. One hard wiinter could devestate Ozark roads.
This initiative is not to build new roads! It is only to repair and maintain the roads we have and add some additional sidewalks. That's it. The funds would be 100% dedicated to this purpose. Even if passed, the city will still have to dedicate several hundred thousand dollars per year from its general revenue funds towards roads to complete the projects that need to be completed.
Why, you might ask would the board bring forward a transportation sales tax proposal which will last only five years if the city has 15 years’ worth of projects? To earn your trust is why. First, understand that, in my opinion, Ozark’s Board of Aldermen is a very conservative, anti-tax group. I am 100% committed to making sure these projects go off without a hitch. I expect the rest of the Board feels the same way. If Ozark does a good job you can reauthorize the tax in five years and let us do more work. If Ozark does a bad job you can let the tax expire.
When I ran for Alderman I made a point that the best way to fix Ozark's funding issues was economic growth. I still believe that to be true. If the community approves this initiative and the economy improves we may not need to come back after five years and request a re-authorization. However, in the interim, economic growth is not returning fast enough to deal with the problems our roads are starting to experience. The decision of the county to eliminate our road funds makes the situation worse.
Rest assured we do not take this request lightly. If the need was not real, and dire, it would not be made. We cannot count on mild winters forever, we have to start taking care of our roads now or the cost to fix them later will be totally out of reach.
Please do not immediately decide to vote no on this measure simply because you are "anti-tax". Take the time to learn about the situation and the needs before making up your mind. And whatever you decide about this transportation sales tax proposal in Ozark, be sure to vote on April 2nd.