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County Council decides not to opt out of August sales tax holiday

Citing the impact on local businesses, the St. Charles County Council chose not to opt out of the Missouri back-to-school sales tax holiday in August.

Instead, the council agreed to approve a bill at its June 13 meeting amending this year’s budget and shifting funds to pay for adding a full-time St. Charles County Police Department detective sergeant and allocating more money for a county youth anti-drug program.

The council took its lead from a compromise worked out between Councilmember Joe Brazil [District 2] and Mike Elam [District 3].  The compromise helps local businesses who had already been planning for the sale tax holiday and provides some funding to help the county combat an explosive and ongoing heroin “epidemic” in the county.

“We have an absolute need, no doubt about it,” Brazil said regarding the county’s need for more resources to deal with drug abuse issues.

Brazil proposed legislation and the council discussed in May whether not to participate in the sales tax holiday on Aug. 5-7 and earmark the county’s portion of its sales tax collected these days to go toward dealing with drug issues. A memorandum from County Executive Steve Ehlmann recommended the county earmark $172,093 anticipated to be raised for funding additional police detectives.

At its May 23 meeting, the council discussed hiring one new officer and using the rest of the money raised for more overtime pay for narcotics officers, and for counseling programs by nonprofit groups such as Sts. Joachim and Ann Car Services.

The council also discussed providing $20,000 to support the county’s CRUSH [Community Resources United to Stop Heroin] initiative.  The program, established in May 2015 by the county prosecuting attorney’s office, brings together schools, law enforcement, treatment providers, community leaders and health care organizations.

However, Brazil said on June 13 that he didn’t give enough consideration to businesses who had already bought and planned to sell school supplies covered by the sales-tax holiday.

“Every time you come up with an ordinance of some kind there are unintended consequences that you don’t think about,” Brazil said.  “And so Mike Elam was good enough to point some of those things out to me.”

Elam said Brazil was open to a compromise. He said he didn’t want to punish businesses by forcing shoppers to leave the county.

“We’re able to take some initial steps to go after this problem but we’re also able to be sensitive to our business community,” Elam said.

The bill the council passed by a unanimous vote moves around about $37,000 in this year’s budget  from various to provide money for adding a full-time police detective sergeant to the department’s existing four detective sergeants and funding for the CRUSH program.

No specific allocation was mentioned in the bill for CRUSH, which has held several “teen drug summits” that bring together 350 middle school students from throughout the county for an anti-drug program.

Brazil said that opting out of the sales tax holiday next year might be a possibility if the county needs more money to deal with the heroin and drug issue. Hiring additional officers, providing more overtime pay, helping pay for counseling from nonprofit groups, and funding for school programs are expected to be part of county budget discussions later this year, he said.  The county must adopt its next year’s budget by Jan. 1.

Brazil said looking to next year may give businesses a chance to plan if the sales tax holiday isn’t in effect.

The sales tax holiday began in 2004 when Missouri agreed not to collect its portion of sales taxes on items such as clothing, school supplies and computer equipment. Municipalities have often followed suit.

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