Greene County officials are worried about a new Missouri law, which they say raises the stakes for the upcoming tax hike vote.

If voters don’t pass a proposed 1/2-cent general revenue sales tax in November, the new law will require county leaders to wait two years before putting a similar question on the ballot.

Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin said, “The county could not wait for two years to try again.”

Cirtin said that without additional revenue, the county will not be able to maintain buildings and replace aging equipment, such as sheriff’s office vehicles.

“I don’t mean this as a threat,” Cirtin said, “But the bottom line is, there would have to be services cut.”

The law does not appear to apply to sales taxes dedicated to a particular fund, Cirtin said. So, the county would not be prohibited from asking voters to pass a law enforcement sales tax.

County leaders have emphasized the importance of having a revenue source that could fund a variety of critical needs, including compliance with federal environmental mandates.

“The lion’s share (of the 1/2-cent tax proposal) is going to be going to criminal justice, but we have a lot of other needs as well,” Cirtin said.

Lobbyist Scott Marrs says the portion of the bill that affects county tax proposals was originally drafted to address an issue related to the St. Louis Zoo, but the language was written in a way that would affect all Missouri counties.

“It’s a totally unrelated issue, and all of a sudden, it implicates everybody,” said Marrs, who lobbies on behalf of the city of Springfield and Greene County.

“This is poorly drafted, this whole thing,” commented Marrs, while scanning the language of the bill, which was signed by Gov. Eric Greitens in July.

The law says a county must wait two years before submitting another proposed sales tax to voters, regardless of whether the initial initiative passes or fails.

Marrs said the provision that is worrying county leaders was tacked onto a bill at the last minute during the legislative session.

Since so few bills were moving through legislature at the time, Marrs said this one became a target for amendments including ones about industrial manufacturing zones and school board elections.

“It’s got everything on there,” Marrs said. “It’s harder to know what you’re voting on when it’s in that big of a bill.”

Legislators had less than 24 hours to review the language of the amendment, Marrs said.

Marrs said the law could potentially be amended next legislative session.

Cirtin said he plans on approaching local legislators for help on the issue.

By Alissa Zhu | Springfield News Leader