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County may opt out of sale tax holiday, hire detectives to combat drug abuse

BTS shoppingThe St. Charles County Council is considering whether to opt out of annual Missouri back-to-school sales tax holiday in August and earmark that revenue for law enforcement efforts to fight heroin and opiate abuse.

“We have a serious drug problem in this community and in St. Louis City and County,” said County Councilman Joe Brazil [District 2] at the council’s May 9 meeting. “A little of it has to do with our being the only state that doesn’t have an opiate registry but we have to work through state legislators, or hopefully something locally, but [either way] something has to be done. We have more people dying from heroin than car accidents.”

Brazil introduced a bill at the meeting to earmark the county’s portion of its sales tax during the tax holiday on Aug 5-7 to hire two additional narcotics detectives to help with drug enforcement issues.

The bill closely follows a memorandum from County Executive Steve Ehlmann, which recommends to the council that the $172,093 anticipated to be raised “would be for the purpose of funding two additional detectives in the [county] police department specifically assigned to drug enforcement duties.”

Brazil said that, while he at first wasn’t for opting out of the sales tax holiday, the additional revenue might help with enforcement that might cut back on crime.

The council discussed the bill and could take action as early as its next scheduled meeting on May 31. While councilmembers were supportive, one raised a question about whether opting out could be counterproductive to raising the needed funding.

“This problem has really rattled me to my bones,” said Councilman Mike Klinghammer [District 6] “This problem we have with heroin is truly scary. It’s gotten to be so mainstream and so prevalent and once people try it, it’s almost impossible to turn it around.”

But Councilman Mike Elam [District 3], who said he appreciated the idea, questioned whether skipping the holiday may prompt shoppers to buy their school supplies in Chesterfield or other parts of St. Louis County that haven’t opted out of the tax holiday. That might be counterproductive for the county, he said.

“The numbers that we think we’re getting that day, we may not be getting that day because we’re giving people an incentive to buy somewhere else,” Elam said. He asked that the county talk to economic development directors about the issue.

Ehlmann said St. Peters did not waive their sale tax in 2008 or 2009 and asked County Finance Director Robert Schnur to look into the impact that the lack of a waiver that year had on major merchants in St. Peters, including some at the Mid Rivers Mall.

Cronin, while he’s not a fan of sales taxes, said he didn’t think residents would shop elsewhere and would be supportive of the county.

“They want to keep the damn drugs away from their kids,” Cronin said.

The tax holiday began in 2004 when the state of Missouri agreed to not collect its portion of the sales tax on such items as clothing, school supplies and computer equipment. Local governments throughout the state, including municipalities and the county, also have waived their local sales taxes during some years.



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