The Missouri sales tax map, a cartographer’s dream (or nightmare) – Wacky Tax Wednesday

The Missouri sales tax map, a cartographer’s dream (or nightmare) – Wacky Tax Wednesday

The Missouri Department of Revenue has been tasked with creating and maintaining an online map showing sales tax information for the state’s local tax jurisdictions — all 2,200+/- of them.

How many tax jurisdictions does one state need?

Cities and counties impose local sales and use taxes in Missouri, but they’re not the only entities to do so. According to Missouri House Bill 1858, the new map must display the tax jurisdictions of the following political subdivisions:

  • Ambulance districts
  • Community improvement districts (not to be confused with neighborhood improvement districts, below)
  • Fire protection districts
  • Levee districts
  • Library districts
  • Neighborhood improvement districts (not to be confused with community improvement districts, above)
  • Port authority districts
  • Tax increment financing districts
  • Transportation development districts
  • School districts

And “any other political subdivision that imposes a sales tax within its borders and jurisdiction.”

For each jurisdiction, the map must display the current sales tax rate for each sales tax imposed and collected. This won’t be a simple map because jurisdictions overlap. For example, a single point on the future map could contain a city, county, fire protection district, school district, transportation development district, and more.

Why so many jurisdictions? As their names indicate, each has its own purpose.

A few years ago, for example, some business owners in Columbia City created a community improvement district so they could levy a special sales tax within their business loop to fund capital improvements in the district. Such special sales taxes must be approved by local vote in Missouri, but the law allows property owners to vote if no registered voters live within the district.

The Columbia City property/business owners intended to exclude all residences from the boundaries of their new special district so they could control the fate of the sales tax themselves. Unfortunately, they accidentally included the residence of one voter, who brought the whole issue into the public eye.

But back to the map. It may end up looking something like this one, developed by Avalara to help taxpayers find local sales tax rates.

Show me the rates

Sales and use tax rate changes generally occur quarterly in Missouri, and rarely does a quarter pass without a bevy of these changes. They occur at the county level, city level, and special district level. (Whenever I need to dive into Missouri sales and use tax rate changes, I draw a deep breath and try to channel patience and clarity.)

There are thousands of jurisdictions in Missouri, and multiple rates within each jurisdiction. There’s a sales tax rate and a use tax rate — which are often but not always the same. There’s a food sales tax rate and a food use tax rate. And there’s a domestic utility rate and a manufacturing exemption rate. Curious? Take a look at the Q3 sales and use changes posted by the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Why do this now?

The bill’s sponsor says, “sales tax rates are spiraling out of control” because of special taxing jurisdictions. Representative Phil Christofanelli believes “Missouri taxpayers have a right to know about the many special taxes that have been layered over where they work, live and shop.”

It seems Rep. Christofanelli intends to somehow use the map — or perhaps the public reaction to seeing it — to enact some sort of change. “To date,” he said, “there has been no comprehensive effort to track the growth of these districts. This bill is an important step towards reform.” He hasn’t yet specified the type of reform he means.

The map is to be up and running by July 1, 2019. In the meantime, you can search for local sales tax rates in Missouri and other states here.

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