At its regular Board Meeting on July 23, the Branson Board of Aldermen (Board) considered a Bill placing a 2% “Use Tax” on Nov. 5, 2019 ballot for voter approval. After discussion, the Board decided that the Use Tax was too important an issue to try to rush and get on the Nov. ballot at this time. By a vote of 6 to 0 the Board voted to not put it on the ballot for the Nov. election.
The Board’s discussion included comments about the need for the Use Tax and that it would be considered for placement on the ballot for a future election. Ward I Alderman Bob Simmons said, “I think that the tax is definitely needed; I don’t think there is any question about that. We are losing Sales Tax as more people buy out of town [on the internet] and it’s going to get exponentially worse. The need will become more obvious as we go forward, but it doesn’t look favorable for putting it back on the ballot right now.”
Simmons said that the Use Tax does not increase the city’s revenues. All the Use Tax would do is replace, dollar for dollar, each dollar in Sales Tax lost because of out of state internet purchases. Simmons stresses that the proceeds from any Use Tax would be deposited into the same fund as the City’s Sales Tax, the “General Fund.” “It’s our most critical fund and is used to pay many of the city’s operational and other expenses.”
He points out that the components of the Use Tax are the same as the Sales Tax. The 2% breaks down to 1% General Tax, .5% Transportation Tax, and .5% Public Safety Tax. “Even with the passage of the Public Safety Tax, the General Fund substantially supports the Police and Fire Department. We are still taking out the same amount for police and fire because the voters were promised that the .5% Public Safety Tax would be for services and facilities in addition to those provided by what we were currently paying from the General Fund.
Simmons says that another advantage the Use Tax provides is to help even the playing field for Branson’s local brick and mortar stores. Currently, out-of-state retailers on the internet have a competitive advantage over them because they don’t have to collect and remit the city’s Sales Tax. A Use Tax eliminates that advantage.
Carolyn Parker, is the co-owner of River Run Outfitters, with her husband Stan. It’s a full-service fly-fishing shop and outfitting service that has been servicing the needs of Lake Taneycomo fly fishermen since 1999. She said that if the “use tax” would result in the purchaser of a product paying the same as the sales tax they would pay if they purchased that same product in her shop she’s in favor of it.
“A person comes into the shop, casts a rod, tries on a pair of waders, looks at other merchandise, and solicits our advice, which we are more than happy to provide. It’s all part of customer service. Then they leave and we never see them again,” Parker said. “Do I know that they have gone online and purchased it so that they don’t have to pay sales tax? I don’t know that for a fact, but I highly suspect that, in more than a few cases, that is the case. I have had people tell me that they could purchase the same thing on-line and not pay tax. I don’t think that is fair at all!” she added.