Much time was spent discussing the water and sewer rate Branson residents and businesses pay at the Branson Board of Alderman meetings on Aug. 27 and Sep. 12. It took place as part of the discussion relating to an ordinance using 1.5 million “windfall” in Tourism Tax Funds to underground a segment of utilities on the stalled Highway 76 project.
Water and sewer rates came up in connection with other possible uses of the windfall to benefit individual residents and businesses of Branson. Ward II Alderman Larry Milton said that when the initial Tourism Tax got voter approval, it was with a promise that a portion of it would be used to keep voter’s water and sewer rates low. After its passage, that was the case until the mid-2000s. Then, all of a sudden, the decision was made to increase the rates. There has been a steady rise in rates ever since.
As was done initially, the proceeds of the Tourism Tax can apply to the operation of the city’s infrastructure, including water and sewer plants. The water and sewer rates individuals and business pay can be lower or at least remain constant, by appropriate budgeting and an annual appropriation to do so. “But Seagull, if that’s the case, why did the city break its pledge to the voters? Why are our rates continually rising?” “Because they could and can without voter objection.”
Could that $1.5 million windfall from the Tourism Tax Fund make a difference in the sewer rates that Branson voters pay? Absolutely!
While acknowledging his lack of mathematical proficiency, the Ole Seagull would submit the following as a possibility. If the annual increase in the city’s Water and Sewer operation was $300,000 per year that $1.5 million windfall has the potential to eliminate water increases for up to five years. Imagine what could happen to the voter’s water and sewer rates if money was budgeted and appropriated from the Tourism Tax on an annual basis.
“But Seagull, you know the adage, “tourists pay most of the tax.” “That they do in terms of the majority of the taxes collected. Not true on an individual taxpayer basis.”
The residents and voters of Branson pay a variety of sales, tourism, CID, and marketing taxes daily while the tourist pays for them just a few days per year. Moreover, that’s only in general; it’s even worse when it comes to water and sewer rates.
Currently, the Tourism Tax provides the funding for the building of sewer and water infrastructure. Although it allows for its proceeds to be used for operations too, our elected officials have decided not to do that. The result is that the cost of the operation of that infrastructure falls solely on the residents, voters, and businesses of Branson. The result is steadily increasing water and sewer rates that some of the elected representatives and appointed city staff appear not inclined to reduce.
The good news, as pointed out by Myers at the Sep. 12 meeting is that hotels are the most significant users of water and sewer. They are also occupied primarily by tourists using that water and sewer. If the city doesn’t respect its residents, voters, and businesses enough to give them relief from higher water rates using the Tourism Tax then why not just raise the water and sewer rates of hotels and nightly rental condos and leave the rates of the resident, voters, and other businesses alone? Don’t they deserve a break? The Ole Seagull thinks so. What do you think?