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Jackson County medical tax proposal stirs strong emotions

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

Jackson County voters will go to the polls next month to consider approving a sales tax to fund medical research, and it has created strong emotions on both sides.

The half-cent sales tax would pay for a new translational medicine research facility on Hospital Hill. Translational medicine is a discipline within biomedical and public health research that aims to improve the health of individuals and the community by "translating" findings into diagnostic tools, medicines, procedures, policies and education.

If approved, the tax would allow doctors at St. Luke's and Children's Mercy hospitals to apply cutting-edge treatment and care to patients.

"No matter what may be your health challenge, you can get that challenge met successfully in the KC area," said David Westbrook, a senior vice president for Children's Mercy.

That's the goal at least – to bring the latest in clinical trials and other patient care research to Kansas City.

"The kind of research we'll be doing will deliver a higher quality of care to the community," Westbrook said.

He also contends that the tax will create additional jobs.

"The real return we are talking about here is not just a financial return. The real motivation for doing this is how it stimulates the economy because of the jobs that will be created and more important how it creates a better quality of care for patients in this community," he said.

But the Greater KC Restaurant Association doesn't think taxpayers should bear the cost.

"There's no doubt that medical research is a viable and needed opportunity throughout the country, not just Jackson County, but the taxing mechanism in which they're seeking for this just doesn't sit right with the residents here," Jason Pryor with GKCRA said.

The tax would raise $40 million annually over 20 years with a projected $30 million return on investment in the first ten years – a profit Pryor just doesn't see as beneficial.

"If it adds $30 million, I think this tax raises $800 million over the course of it's time," Pryor said.

The restaurant group is opposing it in part because in some areas such as the Kansas City Power and Light the tax on a meal could be almost 13 percent, making it one of the nation's highest sales taxes.

Children's Mercy would oversee half of the research, the University of Missouri at Kansas City and St. Luke's Hospital would oversee 20 percent each. A remaining 10 percent of the money would go to training programs.

"It will also deliver opportunities for those products and services that are designed to be commercialized," Westbrook said.

If any research findings lead to a product or cure, Jackson County would receive 20 percent of the net profits.

The election on Question 1 will be held in a special session Nov. 5. It will cost taxpayers $850,000 to open polls that day.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

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