Missouri Voters Demonstrate Trust in Local Government at the Polls

 

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Local government is closest to the people. On Tuesday, Missouri voters demonstrated their support for government closest to the people with widespread approval of local ballot issues to keep their communities strong and vibrant.

Local election results gathered by the Missouri Municipal League (MML), the Missouri School Boards’ Association (MSBA) and the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) showed voters overwhelmingly supported various city, county and school ballot proposals. These three organizations are allied in the Missouri Local Leaders Partnership (MoLLP), together representing more than 9,000 local leaders across the state.

“Citizens across the state placed their trust in municipal government by approving continued tax authority and authorizing bonds for capital improvement projects,” said Dan Ross, executive director of MML. “The real winners from Tuesday’s elections are the citizens, who demonstrated continued confidence in their local government to deliver the products and services citizens want and need.”

“The vast majority of proposals put forth by counties were approved by voters on Tuesday,” said Dick Burke, executive director of MAC.  “We are very pleased to see the trust that voters put in their local governments’ accountability and stewardship of taxpayer resources.”

One issue receiving resounding support was the continuation of various cities’ motor vehicle sales tax. Voters need to approve continuing this local tax by November 2016 in order to keep a level playing field for local dealerships. For example, without the continued tax, a consumer can cross state lines to purchase a vehicle out of state after November, thereby avoiding the local sales tax and keeping money away from their local community.

More than 100 cities placed this on the ballot and were authorized by voters to continue this tax. At this time, only one city is known to have rejected the tax continuation.

Another major issue passed for the state’s two largest cities. Both St. Louis and Kansas City voters supported the continuation of their local earnings tax for another five years, despite well-funded opposition by wealthy retired St. Louis investor Rex Sinquefield. The earnings taxes account for large portions of general revenues for St. Louis and Kansas City. In Kansas City, the earnings tax was reauthorized with 77 percent of the vote, and in St. Louis, there was 72 percent support for the measure.

In a Kansas City Star article this week, by Yael T. Abouhalkah, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said the approval shows that Kansas City voters understood how essential the earning’s tax is to the city’s basic services budget. http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/yael-t-abouhalkah/article70183567.html

MSBA reported especially strong support for school issues across the state, including a tax levy and bond issue in Columbia. http://www.columbiatribune.com/opinion/the_tribunes_view/cps/article_c80b1663-0e37-5c94-96d4-1097236eb827.html

“Once again local voters throughout the state have shown a commitment to providing students with a high-quality education,” said Melissa Randol, executive director of MSBA. “I’m proud to be part of a state that supports strong local schools and communities.”

Ross says local government leaders can now continue doing what they have always done: serving their neighbors while being good stewards of the tax dollars entrusted to benefit cities, schools and counties.

Voters continue to trust local governments more than state and federal levels of government. In 2014, a Gallup poll showed that 72 percent of Americans trust their local government, while 62 percent trusted state government. http://www.gallup.com/poll/176846/americans-trust-local-government-state.aspx

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey indicated Americans give the best marks to local governments, at 63 percent, while state governments earn 57 percent and the federal government only 28 percent. http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/public-opinion-local-state-federal-government-survey-results.html.

 

shutterstock_166747781forGoogleIN PRAISE OF OUR COMMUNITIES

by Steve Roth

A speaker at a conference I attended recently challenged the crowd to, in so many words, be positive. We undervalue the things we have, she said, and overvalue those things we don’t. We compare ourselves to others and, in the municipal government arena, we can end up envying the resources those other cities have, the big salaries they must be making, their robust sales taxes and gleaming new streets, their fun-loving mayors, and downtowns full of tourists.

Meanwhile, we look at our own towns and see only the streets that need fixing, the derelict buildings that need demolishing and the employee(s) who need an attitude adjustment. We cuss our critics and naysayers while taking for granted the friendly neighbor down the street. We brood over our town’s problems while the strong points get filed away and forgotten.

The conference speaker hit a nerve with me and I returned to my town on a recent Friday afternoon determined to see it with new eyes. While I did have a few minor fires to put out upon returning, I also had the pleasure of seeing some of our town’s best strengths in action.

I was greeted at City Hall by the very cheerful and competent staff. I drove out to a street project in progress and was amazed at the work that had gotten done in the few days since I was gone. The crew was still working on it, finishing up; a couple of them were putting in overtime to make sure the construction area was safe for the weekend.

Then I saw the mayor, who was complimenting the street crews as well. After hearing a few tales of rogue mayors at the conference, how nice it was to see ours in action – one who makes his rounds with the best interests of the community at heart.

Later, I visited a local business owner who was literally making a special “Key to the City.”

“Are you here about the key?” he asked when I came in. I just grinned and nodded. He invited me back to his workspace and together with his associates we worked out the plan. “We’ll get it done!” he assured me, and I had no doubt that he would.

Then I walked down our beautiful historic main street, a place of pretty shops and galleries and the best grain alcohol money can buy (Pinckney Bend Distillery). I took a glance at the Missouri River, our constant companion (friend and sometimes foe), its muddy water ever rolling. It was good to be home, walking our quiet streets and feeling positive again about all the good things we have going on here.

It is easy in municipal government to dwell on the bad. Our town is small and of course we have our problems, but we also have attributes we should never forget. We have police officers who literally put their lives on the line for the safety and betterment of our community. We have streets and utilities workers who take seriously their duty to the public and the taxpayers. We have a wonderful city staff who take the best care of our customers, our citizens and taxpayers, as we can.

We have excellent people working hard every day to provide for their families and to help strengthen their community. We have city officials and staff who have made a true commitment to public service, and do their best at it. We have the beauty and charms of living in a small town that most of us wouldn’t trade for anything.

In municipal government, we truly do work in a noble profession. It is an honor to serve our fellow citizens, to work with our staffs and colleagues for the betterment of our communities. Often, in the day-to-day grind, we can forget this. We should remember why we got in this business in the first place, for the love of our communities, and never take for granted all the good we have in them.

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Steve Roth is the city administrator for the city of New Haven.