Audit raises questions about special sales tax Independence shoppers pay for events center

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- If you shop anywhere around Independence Center, Missouri's auditor wants you to know where the extra sales tax you pay is really going.

Nicole Galloway said the city of Independence is raking in excessive fees, and the Community Improvement District Board failed to manage more than $67 million.

This special tax encompasses the biggest shopping area in the state. It was created in 2007 to build the Independence Events Center, now known as Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.

Shoppers pay an extra .75 percent tax when shopping at 277 businesses around the Interstate 70-Interstate 470 interchange. Those include stores like Costco, Walmart and businesses inside Independence Center.

But some shoppers are fed up with the sales tax they pay.

"They are taking our money, and they are telling us they are doing something with it, and they're not," Vicki Cantwell said. "So where is it? That's what I want to know."

Missouri's state auditor wanted to know, too.

Galloway took a closer look at the Community Improvement District surrounding Independence Events Center. Her conclusion is their isn't an issue with the tax itself, but there is with where some of the money is going instead of paying off construction bonds.

"When that money is going to administrative costs instead of to the project, citizens want to see a benefit where their public dollars are going," Galloway said.

She said those fees the city of Independence has decided it deserves are astronomical compared to the rest of the state.

Each of the past five years, Independence has directed more than $100,000 from the taxing district into its own reserves. That's almost as much in fees as the next 10 largest CID's in the state, combined.

Additionally, Galloway said the board was supposed to oversee the $67 million arena construction project but failed to review or approve a single penny that was spent.

"We're getting ripped off," Cantwell said.

Some shoppers who are just happy with all the new conveniences that have grown up around the arena are less concerned.

"If it benefits the community, what's another penny?" Virginia Matthews said.

But Galloway said the city of Independence and the Community Improvement District Board of Directors have some explaining to do. Three of the board's five members are also employed by the city. Galloway said the board should perhaps consider putting administration of the tax up for public bid.

"You work really hard for your money," she said. "You want the best deal possible, and any special taxing district or public official should treat your dollars the exact same way."

‚ÄčThe CID board said it costs more to oversee the tax because of the large number of businesses in the special taxing district.

As for why they hadn't reviewed construction costs, the board said in the audit members don't have the necessary expertise.