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IT'S OUR TURN: Consider a local sales tax, y’all

Discussion of a possible city sales tax in Park Rapids takes me back to my old Missouri beat, where city officials did similar homework.

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Robin Fish

It’s been a few years since I moved up here from Missouri, but some ideas I was exposed to during my 15-ish years there still buzz around in my brain.

One that you’ll probably notice, if you spend much time talking to me, is the word “y’all.” It’s just too useful to put behind me.

But y’all can decide for yourselves whether it’s worth adding a pronoun to your vocabulary just to distinguish between singular and plural uses of “you.” I like it, and if y’all don’t, that’s fine.

However, there are some ideas I’d like y’all to think about, based on proposals I saw small communities in Missouri working on. Consider this part 1 of a series.

To start with, at least one of these ideas is already being considered at Park Rapids City Hall, but before it can fly, a lot more of us will need to think about it and talk about it.

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What I’m talking about is a city sales tax. We’re talking, probably, a small fraction of a penny on the dollar – enough that you might notice the difference when you make a big purchase in town, but maybe not so much that it’ll affect your day-to-day shopping.

The downside of it is that businesses inside city limits will have to add that small percentage to your total at the till.

To some consumers, that may sound like a hike in the cost of living. To some business owners, that may sound like an incentive to take your business elsewhere.

However, up to a certain point (like buying a car at one of the dealerships), it’s probably not going to make enough of a difference to make it worth shopping a city or two away – particularly not with gas costing what it does these days.

And if sales tax is going to sway you to buy your car out of town, that probably means you’ll be going out of state, too.

Anyway, it’s not just a tax on local residents. A city sales tax would draw revenue from all the people who visit here, passing through on their way to somewhere else, like Itasca. It would bring in dollars from the summer visitors, tourists and resorters drawn in by our beautiful downtown area. And it would most likely be used, I gather, for street improvements – putting those dollars back into the very roads that suffer wear and tear from all that summer traffic.

City leaders in Stover, Mo. weren’t original thinkers on this, but they did their homework. They looked at the numbers for other Missouri cities in the same population range, whether they did or didn’t have a local sales tax, and if so at what rate, and how it seemed to affect their revenue.

They looked frankly at both good and bad examples on both sides – towns whose business sector was too small for it to make a difference; towns where the tax rate was too low or too high; towns where it actually hurt their revenue – but overall, they saw that a local tax at a reasonable rate really benefited many communities, and they acted accordingly.

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So, what I’d like to urge y’all to do is think about this, and encourage anyone you know at city hall to make sure they do similar homework on it, and if and when the time comes to discuss it at a public hearing, give it as much support as you thoughtfully can.

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