Technology makes life easier. We can buy just about anything online instead of driving to a retail outlet. We make fewer trips to the gas station because our cars are more fuel efficient. In an emergency, we have the ability to call 911 from cell phones instead of relying on landlines. All of this is fantastic – but you may be surprised to know that these technological advances have created new challenges for government in a growing county like ours.
More than 60 percent of County Government revenue comes from sales tax. Growth in sales tax collections has allowed the County to keep our property tax rates low. Over the last decade, online shopping, or e-commerce, has affected sales tax collections. Online retailers do not have to collect sales tax on your purchases unless they have a physical presence in Missouri. Over the last 13 years sales tax revenue has grown an average of 3 percent per year. During that same period, county population and inflation together have grown almost 4.5 percent. Ironically, the same technological advances that allow you to shop on line have allowed us to provide at least some government services at less cost. However, with the Census Bureau of the United States Department of Commerce reporting a 15.1 percent increase nationally in online sales since 2015 alone, it is logical to assume that sales tax collection will continue to be affected in some way by e-commerce.
Other challenges related to technological advances include funding for 911 services and transportation infrastructure improvements:
We have been forced to find County revenues to make up for the shortfall in the above two areas. Since the revenue collected through the landline tax is no longer enough to purchase, operate and maintain 911, County Government and our local Public Service Answering Points (PSAPs) which handle emergency calls have picked up the slack. County Government had to contribute $1.3 million to what was to have been a self-supporting system. Technologies and federal regulations in this area change quickly and a large system upgrade will likely require another large cash outlay in about 7 years. Bills have been before the Missouri Legislature for several years to address the 911 funding issue statewide, but have not passed.
Likewise, County Government and area municipalities have partnered with MoDOT to complete major projects in the area such as the Page Extension, I-70 Mid Rivers Mall Drive interchange and I-70 Fifth Street Interchange projects. While MoDOT has begun to study improvements to the I-70 corridor, given its existing funding many of the proposed improvements to the corridor may never be built.
The impact of technological advances will continue to present opportunities and challenges for County Government. I will continue to keep you updated as the County Council and my administration take advantage of these opportunities and meet the challenges.