Mexico Business Owners Leery of Health Center Tax Hike

5 years 4 months 3 weeks ago November 02, 2011 Nov 2, 2011 Wednesday, November 02 2011 Wednesday, November 02, 2011 1:58:00 PM CDT in News
By: Garrett Bergquist
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MEXICO - Local business owners said Wednesday they don't think it's a good time for the county to raise property taxes to fund a public health unit.

An initiative on the ballot for Tuesday would set a property tax to fund the Audrain City-County Health Unit, which provides services ranging from health inspections to control of communicable diseases. The tax would be set at $0.25 per $100 of assessed property value. Kevin Lowrance, the unit's administrator, said this would change how the health center is currently funded. Lowrance said the center gets most of its funding from a compact with the cities of Mexico and Vandalia, the Audrain County Commission, and the Audrain Medical Center. Declining tax revenue has forced the city of Mexico, one of the largest donors, to cut back on its contributions. Lowrance said 87 of the 114 county public health centers in Missouri are funded by a property tax. He said the center does receive funding from other sources such as the state of Missouri and the federal government, but it accounts for less than a third of their funding.

Opinions on the initiative are mixed. Nikki Leach, who owns the Graphitti T-shirt shop, said while she understands and appreciates the services the center provides, the tax could be too much when combined with other tax issues on the ballot. There are two other tax initiatives on Audrain County's ballot for Tuesday.

"I just don't believe that tax increases are the answer to every money shortage," she said.

John Wilbers, who owns Coach's Pizza in downtown Mexico, said the tax burden is already getting to be too much. Other business owners echoed this sentiment.

Lowrance said if the tax initiative didn't pass, the center could be forced to cut back on services such as health inspections. He said the center laid three workers off last year and is trying to avoid laying anyone else off.

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