Branson, Mo., August 5, 2012 – “They” are the City of Branson, Taney County, Branson Landing Transportation Development District, Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District, Taney County Ambulance District, all of whom have made the intentional decision not to join the State of Missouri in providing (more…)
It seemed surreal, almost as if the Ole Seagull wasn’t actually in the crowded room in Branson filled with some of Branson’s biggest power brokers and a sprinkling of others. Although, it was as if they didn’t even notice him, he was surprised he was there because lowly Seagulls are not normally invited to the meetings where the “Condors roost” unless they want something from them. (more…)
In examining the opinion piece appearing in the October 23 edition of the Branson Tri-Lakes News by James Strahan, Taney County Assessor (Strahan) entitled, “Assessor’s office should remain” the Ole Seagull was reminded of an Abraham Lincoln quote. The quote says, “I believe it is an established maxim in morals that he who makes an assertion without knowing whether it is true or false, is guilty of falsehood; and the accidental truth of the assertion, does not justify or excuse him.” (more…)
“Yes” means “No” and “No” means “Yes” or ” How much additional authority do you want to give the city of Branson to tax you and your property?”
Missouri voters going to the polls in the November election will have to vote “Yes” for “No” and “No for “Yes” on two important issues relating to their pocket books. Remember always the Ole Seagull’s warning, “We promise that if you vote for this we will do that.” “What the heck does that mean?” “By itself nothing, but when you add up the total number of times you have voted for ‘this’ and they actually did ‘that,’ or a variation involving less than what was promised the significance of the warning becomes clear.”
A recent headline in this paper blared out “Assessor calls for vote to dissolve P & Z department.” The first paragraph of the article stated “Taney County Assessor James Strahan called on the county commission to place an initiative on the ballot to dissolve the county’s Planning and Zoning Department but before the day was out a disgruntled county resident agreed to take up the cause.” It also stated, “Strahan, whose family owns a large farm, doesn’t like the way the government handles regulations on farmers. He said there should be no intervention when it comes to farm land.”
An Ole Seagull’s prayer would be that if you remember nothing else from this column that you would ask yourself what you would do if you were the teacher in the following scenario. It’s Monday morning, you look up from your desk into the distressed eyes of one of your first grade students who says, “My mommy forgot to cook for us this weekend.”
In a 2005 column entitled, “‘Free at last,’ a new Freeus County formed from the western portion of Taney County?” the Ole Seagull wrote, “Ok, let’s get to the nubbin of it, eastern and western Taney County live in two different worlds. An outsider watching what has been transpiring recently would sense the same thing that the Ole Seagull sensed when he moved to Taney County just about twenty years ago; that eastern Taney County and the Taney County Commissioners treat the economic generator of the vast majority of (more…)
From an Ole Seagull’s perspective, the answers to most of the following questions should be of interest to many of the citizens and businesses of Branson and Taney County for what he believes are obvious reasons. But then, what does an Ole Seagull know?
1. Has the Branson Landing TIF raised enough revenue so that, on an annual basis, year to year, it can pay off its debt service for each of the years it has been open?
2. Is there a TIF funded reserve fund set aside for such payments?
3. If the answer to 2 is “Yes” 3-5 become pertinent if not skip down to 6. How is it funded?
4. What is the current balance of that fund and is there any danger of it running out in the near future?
5. If that fund has ever been used in full or in part to pay on the Branson Landing TIF debt because the TIF receipts were not sufficient, how much and when?
6. If the TIF receipts and the TIF reserve account, if in existence, aren’t enough to pay the debt service is there any possibility that the residents and businesses of Branson could have to pay it either directly or through a loss of services?
7. If the answer to 6 is “Yes” what specific revenue streams of the city are impacted first and how does it eventually flow through to the individual citizen or business?
8. Where is the specific consideration in the potentially $60 million dollar contract the city has with the Branson Airport?
9. Could the recent action of the Branson Board of Aldermen involving payments under Branson Airport Contract influence future legal actions or negotiations involving that contract.
10. Should the word “honor” be used in connection with anything involving the Branson Airport Contract from its inception to the boards recent action involving it?
11. Does the legislation authorizing the city of Branson to impose its city tourism tax permit the use of 75 percent of the tax authorized for infrastructure for the operation of such infrastructure as well as its construction?
12. How many water meters are there in the city of Branson?
13. What is the annual total of the funds, beside debt service, being paid to Branson Landing for maintenance, net operating loss at the Convention Center and the Branson Airport Contract etc.?
14. In addition to the increase in water bills that has been taking place over the last three year for Branson citizens and businesses it may still have to go higher because of what?
15. The average job created by the Branson Landing and Branson Hills TIFF actually pays how much per year?
16. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of two adults and two children is?
17. Is there actually a behind the scenes movement that encourages Branson tourism related businesses not to register with the state and pay the appropriate taxes on the sale of show and attraction tickets that the Missouri Supreme Court says the law requires them to pay?
18. Exactly what is the city of Branson’s position on that issue and what is it doing to insure that every penny it is owed in sales and tourism tax is collected and used for the benefit of the citizens and businesses of Branson?
19. Will the recent layoff of Taney County Road and Bridge personnel impact on the condition and safety of Taney County roads and bridges?
20 What other options or plans were seriously considered before they were laid off?
21. Is there a priority list of county services that would indicate those services that are more essential than others?
22. If not why not?
23. How much did Taney County spend fighting the Tax Assessor issue with the state?
24. Where did the millions of dollars that Taney County had committed to the building of the Taneycomo Bridge go when they didn’t have to spend it because Federal Stimulus money was used for the project instead?
25. Has there been any discussion of collecting a real estate property tax from the residents of Taney County for the purposes of running county government?
Whoops, missed one.
26. Does anyone besides an Ole Seagull really care?
Occasionally, someone asks, “Why don’t you run for office?” To that the Ole Seagull most often replies that he is unelectable. The next question is, “Why?” The answer to that is simple, call it a brain defect or whatever, but the Ole Seagull does not have the ability or self control to substitute being politically correct or saying what people want to hear from what he believes.
Now ask yourself could you honestly vote for a person who has these views:
1. Not one more penny of Taney county funds should be spent on the East West Corridor Road in Taney County, or any other major transportation project until there is at least a 10 year plan in place prioritizing Taney County’s transportation needs.
2. The period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 each year should be declared “Merry Christmas” days at both the Taney county and city of Branson levels. Both should do everything in their power to make Branson the place to come for those wanting to celebrate a traditional Christmas. We market “Christmas” because we want the tourist dollars, but when it comes to standing up for “Christmas” our elected leaders tremble with political correctness and fear of a lawsuit from the ACLU.
3. Believes that Branson’s live shows should be declared as an “economic foundational industry” and, at a minimum, require that at least 33 percent of all publically funded marketing be used to promote Branson shows that operate at least two weeks a month for eight months out of the year.
4. Believes that 25 percent of the portion of the Branson Tourism Infrastructure Tax, which may be used the building, maintenance, and operation of the city’s infrastructure should be used to subsidize the water and sewer rates of all Branson residents and businesses except the Ole Seagull’s.
5. The representation on the Branson Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District (TCED) should be changed to one representative from Stone County, and six from the Taney County Branson area, two appointed by Taney County and four by Branson. Currently, on the seven person board, there are two from Indian Point and another from Stone Country for a total of three which is ridiculously disproportional to the actual taxes Indian Point and the portion of Stone County in the TCED pay.
6. Believes the definition of “alien,” stated in “The Merriam Webster OnLine Dictionary” defined as “relating, belonging, or owing allegiance to another country or government” is accurate.
7. Would work to expand the opportunities for aliens complying with the documentation and other applicable requirements to come into the country and work for a specific employer for a period of eight months after which they would be required to leave the country for a period of at least 60 days before being eligible to reapply.
8. Believes that the tax dollars of U.S. Citizens should not be spent on the medical care or the giving of any other benefit that a U.S. Citizen is entitled to any illegal alien except as is required save their life in the event of a medical emergency.
9. Believes that English should be the National language and the only language used on ballots, government forms, etc.
10. See what he means, no need to go on, politically the Ole Seagull’s toast
The East West Corridor or the road the Ole Seagull calls “The Road to Maybe Halfway Somewhere” is scheduled to be discussed. The discussion relates to a potential gamble of up to $400,000 of county tax payer funds to see if Taney County can get a stimulus grant for a portion of it and will be held on Monday, August 10 at 10:30 a.m. Oh, when you look at the weekly agenda sent out by the county, don’t expect to see a meeting on Monday about the East West Corridor.
The east west corridor will be discussed at the 10:30 meeting entitled “Administrative & Departmental Functions (Commission Hearing Room) Tiger Grant.” They may call it a Tiger, but in terms of public participation in the process, if it looks like the East West Corridor, smells like the East West Corridor, and specifically relates to the East West Corridor why not make it plain on the agenda that the meeting is about the East West Corridor.
Just like, it seems, everything else associated with this project, Monday’s meeting, in the opinion of an Ole Seagull is simply an attempt to move the project forward by its supporters without any study showing that the project is actually a priority transportation need for Taney County. He also believes it is an attempt to minimize the effectual involvement from those who might be opposed to the project until such a priority is determined.
Interestingly, Presiding Commissioner Chuck Pennel said it is his understanding that the costs to apply for the grant had been estimated to be as high as $400,000 and that the chances of getting the grant have gone from the initial estimate of very good to less than five percent. Western District Commissioner Jim Strafuss agrees that the chances for actually getting the funds have gone down since the optimistic early estimates, but doesn’t know exactly how much or how much it will actually cost to apply for the grant.
To an Ole Seagull’s way of thinking we are having a meeting with an engineering firm that is making a presentation trying to earn a fee for submitting a application for the grant and everything is being done to make sure that it is presented in an environment that is as favorable to the proponents of the East West Corridor as possible. Dare we at least hope, if the original statements were accurately attributed, that the engineering firm making the proposal isn’t the one who originally came up with the $400,000 estimate or that the chances of getting the grant were very good?
When it comes to the East West Corridor project however, that, like the other factors, will make no difference. “The Road to Maybe Halfway Somewhere” will be pushed by its supporters to get the county committed as quickly as possible regardless of Taney County’s transportation priorities, the expressed will of its voters or common sense. The only question is how much of the tax payers money will be gambled and how big a gamble it will be?
There are so many interesting things going on that impact on Branson area residents that it was too hard to pick just one so let’s do a “little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
SIGNS SHOULDN’T BE A GAMBLE – Interesting, a small city business recently had its private directional signs unceremoniously removed by the city of Branson because they had no permit. Not a few blocks away, and as recently as the morning of July 25, one of Branson Landing’s largest businesses has directional signs to its service department prominently displayed on Branson Landing Boulevard. One can only hope that the reason those signs weren’t removed is because the city did grant a permit for them.
COST OF TANEY COUNTY TAX ASSESSMENT DEBACLE CONTINUES TO GROW – Taney County Assessor James Strahan is still blaming it all on the state, Taney County has lost about $750,000 so far from state reimbursements, lost a law suit and spent who knows how much on legal cost and citizens are getting huge increases in real estate taxes. As Strahan apparently gets to do anything he wants to do any way he wants to, the Taney County Commissioners have voted to give his office more money to continue doing it. Dare we hope that a permanent solution is on the way? “What a County!”
THE COMMISH ISN”T THROUGH YET – The voters said, “No,” but the pressure and political clout from those wanting, what the Ole Seagull calls the “road to half way there,” the “East West Corridor” appears to be continuing to the extent that the Taney County Commission is considering spending about $400,000 for a study in connection with the possibility of getting a Federal Grant for the project. Interestingly the action is being considered without a report from the county’s Transportation Committee prioritizing the county’s transportation needs. If this kind of money is going to be spent on a study why not spend it on a study that analyzes the total needs of the whole County? “What a County!”
FALL CREEK EXTENSION GOOD NEWS AND BAD – The good news is that the Fall Creek Extension project is anticipated to be completed by September. The bad news is that the Fall Creek Extension project is anticipated to be completed by September. Further good news, when completed it will provide direct and convenient access north and south between Highway 248 and Highway 165. Further bad news, traffic will increase on Fall Creek Road and a substantial portion of Fall Creek Road, particularly its intersection with Highway 165, is not adequate to handle that traffic. How much of that road falls under the authority of Taney County? Are they allocating any money to study the situation and see if they can get Federal Grants to remedy its potential problems? What is its priority as compared to the East West Corridor? Oh, that’s right Taney County doesn’t have a list of Transportation priorities? “What a County!”
BRANSON COUNTY STATUS AND BORDERS – When originally presented, the idea to split Taney County into two counties was more hypothetical and fodder for thought than anything else. But in recent days it appears the idea might have some legs. The number one question the Ole Seagull is asked is, “What would the boarders of the new country be?” As a starting point he would suggest a line starting at Taney County’s northern border three miles east of U.S. Highway 65 and continuing south to the Arkansas State Line.
There has been an ongoing battle between the Missouri Tax Commission and Taney County that could increase taxes “with a vengeance” and has cost the tax payers of Taney County hundreds of thousands of dollars. It revolves around the way real property taxes have been assessed and will be assessed in Taney County.
Anyone watching the fiasco going on between the Taney County Assessor’s Office and the State Tax Commission has to cringe as they watch what has happened and look forward to what will happen. As the Ole Seagull sat in some early meetings it was like a comedic farce filled with smoke and mirrors and “he said she said.”
But, at the end of the day it was more “dark comedy” than funny because, from the outset, it was obvious that, regardless of the outcome, it was going to cost the taxpayers of Taney County money and in the end, for most, higher real estate taxes. In fact, for some it has already started.
If, a taxpayer lives in a condominium, as the Ole Seagull does, the chances are very good that the assessed value of the condo went up at least 20 percent on the most recent assessment notice received. In general that translates to the payment of a substantial increase in property tax on the property.
Does it take an “Assessing Solomon” to figure out that, in the vast majority of cases, if a piece of property, condo or otherwise, was properly assessed previously to the last assessment notice that the property could not possibly have increased in value 20 percent during the last two years. Why there is even a rumor that condos were singled out for this special treatment even though that couldn’t possibly be the case if the assessments were done in a professional, fair and equal manner, but were they?
For what it’s worth, an Ole Seagull would estimate that the issue has already cost the taxpayers of Taney County between $600,000 and $700,000. These are reimbursable funds that the State Tax Commission did not pay because of their allegation that the Taney County Assessor’s office is not properly doing its job properly. Anyone want to guess who is making up the difference? Can we say, “The tax payers of Taney County?”
In the opinion of an Ole Seagull, the sad thing is that when the issue is finally resolved, the majority of those residents living in older homes and businesses with older buildings could be paying much higher real estate taxes than they were when the situation started. What a travesty.
How different things might have been if Taney County had admitted the obvious, said to the Missouri Tax Commission our assessments are too low and asked how it could work with them to get the assessments up to where they should be with a minimum of impact on Taney County’s property owners, particularly those on low and fixed incomes. Instead, our assessor and County Commissioners chose to fight a battle very few, including an Ole Seagull really understood.
The potential results however are very clear. The headline in the June 3 edition of the “Taney County Times” proclaimed just how clear saying, “Taxpayers could see 30 percent increase in property taxes.” An Ole Seagull is just curious, “How could that possibly be happening if the assessments done in the past were done properly?” One can only wonder if the same type of professionalism, seeming arbitrary conduct, and process was used in the past as was used on the blanket assessment of Taney County’s condominiums.