By Susan Redden
There was good news for local governments — especially Joplin — on Friday when Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill passed by Missouri lawmakers that includes $14 million for Joplin tornado recovery, along with provisions for a temporary fix to address the loss of some vehicle sales tax revenues by cities and counties.
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said Nixon had called him to tell him of the signing.
He said the $14 million is to be used to replace streets, storm sewers, curbs and gutters and other infrastructure damaged in the wake of the May 2011 tornado.
Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said she is “ecstatic” the bill containing the state aid to Joplin has been signed into law.
“We’re so appreciative; it will help us continue with infrastructure recovery,” she said. “It’s another example of the great partnership we’ve had with the state and federal governments since the tornado.”
Richard noted that the state funding was the outgrowth of earlier attempts to create a Super TIF district for Joplin in the wake of the tornado. The $14 million is the equivalent of what officials believed the taxing entity would generate.
Joplin will now be able to move forward with a cultural district as well as infrastructure repairs, said David Wallace, CEO of Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners, Joplin’s contracted master developer, in the wake of Nixon’s signing of the bill.
“This creates the foundation so that we can build the new performing arts center, we can build the amphitheater, we can build a new museum and a new (museum) for the visual arts, all of those cultural activities,” Wallace said.
The bill allows the city to impose a sales tax and an admission fee within the cultural arts complex that will be used to help pay for construction of the arts complex.
City Manager Mark Rohr proposed the plan — called Stimulating Progress through Arts, Recreation and Knowledge of the Past, or SPARK, at a cost of $68 million. It is part of the $806 million worth of projects the master developer is working on. It would provide a performing arts theater with gallery space for Spiva, classrooms and other amenities, an amphitheater for outdoor programs, a new Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum and renovation of the Union Depot for possible restaurant spaces.
Wallace has previously said the sales tax would not be citywide.
The admission fee “is not a general tax for citizens,” Wallace said earlier. “It is not collected except for in this district. If people want to see a show, they pay a price, and this fee is included in that price, so it is not a tax or fee assessed on people who are not benefiting from it.” He compared it to a charge paid on concert and theater tickets.
“We have had public sector officials working with the private sector to come up with creative financing so that we can fund these projects,” Wallace said. “This is truly a benefit to the citizens of Joplin.”
Richard said he had been contacted by Joplin, Jasper County and governments across the state about another provision of the bill addressing sales taxes on vehicles purchased out of state that had been invalidated by a Missouri Supreme Court decision two years ago.
“Cities felt like they had already voted on this,” he said. “And the biggest complaint I got was from car dealers who said they were being hurt by out-of-state sales, and that it was costing local jobs.”
The law offers a temporary fix for local governments that, until two years ago, had received sales tax proceeds on cars, boats, trucks and trailers purchased out of state, based on the home address provided by the purchaser when applying for a title. Then the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the tax unconstitutional, and lawmakers since then have tried to craft a repair. Nixon vetoed a bill last year, and vetoed another this session, before signing the current version.
The earlier bills did not sufficiently protect Missourians’ right to vote on tax policy, the governor’s office said, while the measure signed “addresses those concerns by requiring a public vote in local jurisdictions without a local use tax.”
Mayor Colbert-Kean said Nixon’s action on the bill “sounds good, but I want to hear from our city attorney first.”
City Attorney Brian Head said it’s his understanding the measure will provide governments a temporary fix, but a proposal for a use tax will have to be put before voters if the revenue is to continue.
The Joplin City Council has discussed proposing a local use tax, and Jasper County is looking that direction as well, according to John Bartosh, presiding commissioners.
“It’s great, but it’s temporary,” Bartosh said of the fix contained in the bill signed Friday by Nixon.
That portion of the law has an emergency clause, meaning the Missouri Department of Revenue can immediately begin collecting the local tax, said Richard Sheets, of the Missouri Municipal League.
Local governments have been losing out on the tax since the high court ruling. Joplin’s loss is estimated at more than $400,000 annually, according to Leslie Haase, city finance director.
Globe staff writer Debby Woodin contributed to this report.
The Missouri Department of Revenue estimated the loss of tax revenue for Jasper County at $350,000 annually. Losses for other local communities: Carthage, $62,945; Neosho, $69,507; and Webb City, $74,535.