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Fulton City Council members convened an emergency meeting Thursday to make a small but vital tweak to a use tax ballot measure.

The use tax proposal is set to appear on the April ballot. If passed, it would apply a self-reported 2.5 percent tax to out-of-state purchases made online, with the first $2,000 in purchases being exempt. If Fulton's sales tax increases or decreases, the use tax will change to match.

As formerly written, the tax would set aside the first $200,000 collected annually for "public safety." The city expects to collect about $270,000 per year from the use tax.

"We've contacted towns that have passed use taxes, and they said that if you want to pass it, you should commit a chunk to public safety or a specific project," said Bill Johnson, Fulton's director of administration.

Those two words were a sticking point for Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers.

"I've seen that go south many times," Myers said during Tuesday's council meeting. "I totally believe this administration would make sure that money goes to the police and fire departments, but five years down the line, it might be used for fixing potholes."

He said if the council fixed that language, the tax would have his full support. Joey Mirth, representing the local chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters, announced his union's intentions to back the ballot measure.

"I totally agree and appreciate everything Steve said," Johnson said during a follow-up conversation Friday. "In 2020, the council in charge has the police and fire departments' best interests in mind. In five years, we could have a different group on the dais, and that money could go to build a new bridge. Public safety has a very broad interpretation."

To close that loophole, seven of eight City Council members met Thursday evening and voted unanimously to switch the wording from "public safety" to "police and fire capital expenditures."

Johnson said an emergency meeting was necessary because the deadline to submit ballot measures to the county has passed.

"The meeting took about 17 minutes, and the only reason it took as long as it did was (to pass an emergency ordinance) you physically have to read the entire ordinance three times, and it's more than two pages long," he said.

Council members are currently planning how best to educate the public about the proposed use tax. During Tuesday's meeting, Fulton public information officer Darin Wernig screened a video he's produced on the topic and which will soon be shared online. Council members are also available to speak at meetings.

This may be Fulton's last chance to pass a use tax — the State of Missouri has set 2021 as the deadline for municipalities to do so, and voters rejected a use tax ballot measure in 2018. However, City Clerk Courtney Crowson pointed out, that deadline has been extended before.

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