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Use tax request returns to Jackson ballots in November

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A use tax is on the ballot Nov. 2, marking the fourth time in the past seven years that Jackson residents will vote on passing the tax. The use tax, which failed locally in 2014, 2016 and 2019, would allow the city to collect sales tax on Internet purchases from outside the state.

Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs said he is optimistic that this attempt will be different, with the city stating that all revenue that would come from the use tax would be used to improve Jackson’s parks and recreation system.

“In the past, we said we needed this, but we didn’t say what we would use it for,” Hahs said during a “Vote Yes for Jackson” town hall event on Thursday. “Quite honestly, if somebody’s going to pay a tax, they want to know it’s for something that they agree with and that’s good for our community.”

The town hall event, which marks one of the first outreach events to help explain the initiative, was held at the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce’s new location on East Jackson Boulevard and was live-streamed on Facebook.

Hahs said use tax funding, which is estimated to be around $500,000 annually if passed, would allow the City to upgrade 40-year-old bathroom facilities, pave parking lots near sports fields and install new lighting at the soccer and baseball fields.

In addition, a proposed expansion to the recreational trail system would add a trail from Jackson High School to the city’s soccer park. Hahs said the additional funding could also cover more park staff to allow for additional recreational and cultural programs.

“I think we have five full-time staff in our parks, while Cape has a staff of 50 full time — so we have some growing to do,” Hahs said. “We’re growing to a city of 15,000 now, and it’s time to step up and make sure we have a park system that equates to that.”

The park system’s sports fields are currently used by both youth and adult leagues, as well as several Jackson High School teams — including baseball and softball. With the proposed improvements to local sports fields, Jackson Chamber President Brian Gerau said Jackson could attract more youth league tournaments and high-school level state championship games.

“When they come to Jackson everybody wins,” Gerau said. “They’re going to stay in Jackson, and they’re going to spend their money in Jackson; they’re going to stay in our hotels; they’re going to eat at our restaurants and they’re going to buy our gas.”

Gerau added that the funding could also be used to expand cultural events in the parks, like the current music concerts at the bandshell and rock garden.

“Jackson has been growing tremendously, so we want to make sure that our amenities grow with our population and grow with Jackson,” Gerau said. “We don’t want to stay the same with those park amenities as our population grows — we want to grow with it, and this is really going to help us expand and grow with our community.”

In the long term, Hahs said the City would look at expansions of the city’s swimmingpool, as well as adding a splash park. “These are very expensive to put in,” he said. “You get to a million dollars on a splash park fairly quickly, but there are some nice ones in our region and I think the City of Jackson’s residents deserve that too, if that becomes a priority.”

Gerau said the Chamber supports the use tax “100 percent” because of the improvements it would fund in Jackson’s parks, as well as leveling the playing field for Jackson businesses.

“We want to make sure that if someone buys tires that they are charged the same amount of sales tax, whether they bought them online or here in Jackson,” Gerau said. “Local retailers create jobs, they pay property tax, they support our community and they do everything that they are supposed to do. We have to do whatever we can to protect them.”

If passed, the 2.5 percent tax on Internet purchases would match the local sales tax of a purchase made at a Jackson business. “You only pay a tax once, so if you pay it locally, there is not a use tax,” Hahs said. “You can only pay that tax on sales one time, so there’s never a double tax.”

Hahs added that over half of Missouri cities have already passed a use tax and have been collecting it for many years. In addition, Cape Girardeau County and the State of Missouri are already collecting use tax on purchases made by Jackson residents.

“This would enable us to catch up with a lot of our sister cities and fill a loophole,” Hahs said. “It’s not about a new tax — we feel very comfortable having a 2.5 percent sales tax in Jackson — but this closes that loophole of the number of products that we can’t tax our two-and-a-half cents.”

Hahs estimated that the referendum would need “between 1,000 and 1,200 votes” in support on Nov. 2 for the use tax to be approved.

Both Gerau and Hahs said they are available to talk about the use tax initiative to any individuals or groups who are interested in learning more before the election.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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