UPDATED at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday with comments from County Council meeting
ST. CHARLES COUNTY • Concerned about a growing heroin abuse problem, county officials may skip the annual Missouri back-to-school sales tax holiday in August and use the extra revenue to hire two additional narcotics detectives.
“You’ve got a drug epidemic in this county and the neighboring counties,” said County Councilman Joe Brazil, who is promoting the opt-out idea. “It’s something that has to be addressed.”
Hiring more police to fight heroin trafficking, he said, will help the general community more than giving some retail store customers a back-to-school tax break.
Brazil, a Republican from the Augusta area, introduced on Monday night a bill to re-impose the county’s portion of the sales tax — 1.5 percent — during the tax holiday, which this year will be Aug. 5-7.
County financial officials say the county’s share of the tax on those days is expected to raise enough to allow the county to spend $172,000 to hire two additional county police detectives and outfit them with police cars and other equipment.
The county police now have four narcotics detectives, including two assigned to a countywide regional task force. The new hires also would be assigned there.
County police Chief David Todd said he and other chiefs in the county would be grateful for the added help.
The state imposed the tax holiday in 2004 to stimulate back-to-school shopping, applying the exemption for the state’s portion of the tax — 4.225 percent — to purchases such as clothing, school supplies and computers.
Many local governments, such as St. Charles County’s, also have waived their local sales taxes in the past, but others do not.
Brazil wants the county to opt out for the first time and says he believes he has the support of a majority of council members. A vote on the issue is expected this month.
The St. Louis area saw a more than triple increase in heroin and prescription painkiller fatalities over a seven-year span, climbing to 445 in 2014.
The problem has spurred anti-heroin rallies and an education program in St. Charles County schools.
At the council meeting Monday night, Councilman Joe Cronin, R-St. Paul, and Mike Klinghammer, R-St. Charles, said they also supported Brazil's bill.
"This problem that we're having with heroin is truly scary," Klinghammer said. "It's gotten to be so mainstream and so prevalent."
Councilman Mike Elam, R-Dardenne Prairie, said there definitely is a need for more drug officers.
However, he said he's concerned that the measure might spur some people to instead shop in St. Louis County and that less sales tax money than the county expects might end up being available.
"When you opt out of this, are people going to go across the bridge and buy something in Chesterfield?" Elam asked.
County Executive Steve Ehlmann asked Finance Director Bob Schnur to see if St. Peters' decision a few years ago to opt out had any effect on sales during the remaining state sales-tax holiday periods at Mid Rivers Mall.
As for the county tax, Schnur said his office estimates that about $384,000 overall would be raised over the sales-tax holiday period.
He said about $128,000 of that amount must go into road improvements because it would be from a sales tax that can be only used for that purpose. He said $84,000 would go into the county general fund.
He said state law doesn't allow the county to apply to opt out of the holiday for some sales taxes and not others.