Ashland looks to half-cent sales tax to fund parks, stormwater projects

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ASHLAND - The City of Ashland is asking residents to approve a half-cent sales tax increase in the April 3 election to fund parks and storm water projects. 

If voters approve, the total sales tax rate would go up from 7.975 percent to 8.475 percent. That means for every $100 spent, people would pay $8.48, instead of $7.98, in sales tax, according to Ashland Mayor Gene Rhorer.

Rhorer said the city needs more tax revenue because the population growth “has been crazy.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, Ashland’s population was only 1,869, and the number doubled to 3,851 in 2016.

“I think it’s also fair to say it would be much higher in the next decade,” Rhorer said.

Rhorer said Ashland is known to be a “bedroom community” and doesn’t have many businesses. 

“We don’t have a lot of sales tax and retail, so we don’t receive a lot of revenue,” he said.

Ashland resident Matt Scheperle said he’s never worked in the city. He said after he left his job in Columbia and found a new one in Jefferson City, he and his wife picked Ashland as their home because of its location. 

“We still have friends in Columbia, and we have friends in Jefferson City, so it’s a good in-between spot,” Scheperle said.

Rhorer said, “If you have all homes and you depend on that property tax, that’s just not enough to support the infrastructure.”

He said a sales tax raise is needed, and that half of the money would go to parks and half to storm water projects.

Rhorer said three of the four city parks are barely developed with no bathrooms or other amenities like a playground. He said even in the best-maintained Ashland City Park, bathrooms and equipment are “sorely outdated.”

“It’s been quite some time since the playground equipment has been replaced. My daughter - when she was a toddler - used to play on the playground equipment they still have. And she’s 20,” he said.

Rhorer said the tax increase would boost funding for park projects, such as adding bathrooms, shelter houses, trash cans and equipment like swings.

He said the city also has storm water maintenance and runoff issues, especially in older neighborhoods and low-lying areas, such as the Sunset Meadows Subdivision and the historic downtown.

“When we get those five and six-inch rains, it washes down through those areas and creates kind of a mess for us to maintain,” he said. 

Scheperle said he agrees the city needs a better storm water drain system.

“Because of the storm water draining into people’s yards and flooding yards basically,” he said. “Cause you drive around and Ashland is fairly flat, so you can see some yards that have, you know, water stands in it.”  

Rhorer said over the years, parks and storm water projects have been paid through the general fund, which also supports all of the law enforcement operations.

As the city needs to add a new police officer “immediately” for the rapidly developing Columbia Regional Airport area, he said a dedicated parks and storm water tax would allow that to happen and benefit residents with a quicker police response time.  

“If a police officer is down the airport area, we would need another one up here in city proper. They are about three miles apart. So if we get an emergency call here, there would be a fairly longer response time from the airport to here,” he said.

According to Rhorer, the half-cent sales tax would generate $140,000 to $170,000 per year. He said the city spends around $40,000 on parks and recreation annually, and last year, storm water runoff fixes cost $70,000 to 80,000.