Court upholds Cass County ‘Zoo Tax’ decision

bbashioum@demo-mo.comMay 3, 2013 

The Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld Cass County’s decision to reject putting the Kansas City “zoo tax” on the ballot on April 30.

Last spring, Cass County Judge Michael Wagner sided with the Cass County Commissioners in their decision to reject a motion to hold a November 2011 election despite Kansas City Friends of the Zoo campaigners collecting 2,468 signatures in Cass County in an effort to force a countywide vote on a one-eighth cent sales proposal that would go to support the zoo, which is located in Jackson County.

The previous Cass County Commissioner said that the legislation created for the proposed Kansas City Zoological District did not obligate the commission to act.

Wagner denied the complaint on May 15, 2012 filed by Derek Teeter, the attorney representing Friends of the Zoo, to require commissioners to bring the issue to a vote.

Friends of the Zoo supporters appealed the decision to the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, which announced Wednesday to uphold the county’s decision.

“I was happy to see that the Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Wagner's Circuit Court opinion,” Presiding Commissioner Jeff Cox said. “The court held that the statute as written does not impose a mandatory duty upon the County Commission to place the zoo tax on the ballot, and I believe that was the correct interpretation of the law."

Friends of the Zoo contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Cass Commissioners because section 184.503.1 required the commission to submit the ballot question to the voters.

“The sole issue before us is a question of law: whether section 184.503 imposes a mandatory duty on the Cass Commissioners,” the court’s statement stated. “Section 184.503.1 provides in relevant part: The governing body of any eligible county may, by resolution, authorize the creation of or participation in a district, and may impose a sales tax on all retail sales made within the eligible county...A petition requesting such creation of or participation in such district and the levy of the sales tax for the purpose of funding the support of zoological activities within the district may also be filed with the governing body, and shall be signed by not less than the number of qualified electors of an eligible county equal to five percent of the number of ballots cast and counted at the last preceding gubernatorial election held in such county. No such resolution adopted or petition presented under this section shall become effective unless the governing body of the eligible county submits to the voters residing within the eligible county at a state general, primary, or special election a proposal to authorize the governing body of the eligible county to create or participate in a district and to impose a tax under this section.”

Putting the issue on a ballot would have also left Cass County responsible to pick up a $65,000 to $80,000 tab to cover the administrative costs of holding an election with no other issues on the ballot.

Former Commissioner Brian Baker said the judge interpreted the law to mean that Cass County may choose to send a tax to the vote, but is not required to hold an election.

“It is important the sovereignty of Cass County be put first and we keep our tax dollars here to provide the basic services, like roads and law enforcement,” Baker previously stated.

Proceeds from the tax would have been used to upgrade the zoo’s facilities and educational programs.

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