Jackson County voters will be asked in November to extend the county’s anti-drug sales tax, which funds enforcement, prevention and treatment programs.
The Community-backed Anti-Drug Tax, known as COMBAT, is up for renewal for the fifth time since 1989.
More than 80 organizations receive funding from the quarter-cent tax, which is set to expire at the end of March 2018. Voters will be asked Nov. 8 to approve a nine-year extension, which would run through March 2027.
The COMBAT program is operating this year with a $22 million budget. More than half goes to law enforcement — the prosecutor’s office, the county detention facility, Kansas City police and the county’s drug task force. The remainder goes to dozens of area agencies for drug treatment and prevention.
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Renewing the tax is essential for preventing and reducing violence, County Executive Frank White said.
“Anything that we can do to help our citizens in terms of prevention, and being proactive in what we do, is really what this (tax) is about,” he said.
The prevention component includes programs such as DARE, which teaches schoolchildren about the dangers of illegal drugs. Treatment programs focus on adult substance abusers.
In 2009, voters approved expanding funding to include anti-violence programs. That component has expanded heavily since 2013, said COMBAT Director Stacey Daniels-Young.
During the last three years COMBAT has partnered with at least 10 organizations per year that focus on violence prevention for about 20,000 people a year.
Patrick Touhey of the Show-Me Institute, a Libertarian think tank funded by Rex Sinquefield, said despite the tax being in place for almost 30 years, he questioned its necessity.
Touhey lamented a spike in homicides in Kansas City and surrounding areas. The metropolitan area has registered 129 homicides so far in 2016.
“While its goals are noble, it is reasonable to ask what impact it has had in improving the lives of Kansas Citians,” Touhey said. “Exactly how is the money from the COMBAT tax making a difference?”
Touhey referenced a Kansas City Star column from 2009 – the last time the tax was up for renewal — that pointed out the vast majority of cities and counties nationwide are able meet the goals of the COMBAT program without levying a sales tax.
“The work of evaluating it needs to be done before voters are asked to extend the tax, not after,” Touhey said.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the prosecutor’s office benefits mightily from the tax.
Renewal, Baker said, is paramount to address violence in the area.
“Drug treatment and prevention, those are important areas,” Baker said. “But what is equally important today is that we take a focus on violence. We accept … the current level of violence that we experience in the metro region. There is something that we can do about that.
“Prevention of violence is a place that we should go.”