Joplin sued for its multiple general sales taxes
July 29, 2009
In recent weeks there has been much discussion regarding a potential lawsuit against the city of Joplin by Tom Burcham, a southeastern Missouri lawyer and former state legislator from Farmington, for what Burcham calls “tax stacking” – having more than one sales tax. The city was recently notified that the petition was filed in the Circuit Court of Jasper County late last week. The lawsuit relates to the city’s public safety tax approved by voters in November 2006, which is a ½- cent tax that received voter support by a margin of 53% to 47%.

The lawsuit claims that Missouri cities are allowed only one general sales tax. The city of Joplin currently has a one-cent sales tax, passed in December 9, 1969, and with the passage of the ½-cent public safety tax in 2006, the city has two general sales taxes.

The Missouri Municipal League reports that more than 60-80 cities have multiple sales taxes as do numerous counties, and the authority to do so has long ago been acknowledged by the Department of Revenue as well as separate judicial authority as far back as 1991.

“It is a shame that the city will be forced to expend taxpayer money to defend this lawsuit,” said city attorney Brian Head. “This tax originated from a citizen committee, was promoted by a grass-roots effort of the people, and was ratified by the voters. We believe that this lawsuit defies the will of the voters of Joplin, and the city will defend their intention vigorously.”

The lawsuit is one of many Burcham has filed across the state based on collection of pennies in sales taxes. He is seeking his personal attorney’s fees in each and every case.

Voters approved the ½-cent public safety sales tax in November 2006 and collections of the tax began in April 2007. Since then, approximately $12.4 million has been collected. Nearly $5 million has been used for stated purposes of the public safety tax including the hiring of 24 additional police officers, five detectives, and six firefighters. In addition, $398,000 has been utilized to provide wireless access capabilities and mobile data computers for public safety employees to make their work in the field more efficient and response-oriented. Some $20,000 also has gone to the city’s streetlight program to brighten neighborhood and dark roadways.

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