COMBAT History Part 4
71% Support Extending Tax

“COMBAT, the Community-Backed Anti-drug Tax, can do more than treat the symptoms of drug abuse. When Jackson County voters decide Tuesday whether to renew the quarter-cent tax, they’ll decide about prevention, treatment and enforcement programs that are saving lives—and lowering crime.”
Kansas City Sar Columnist Greg Clark (November 2, 1995)1

There’s no gray area when it comes to the voters’ support for extending the Jackson County anti-drug tax. The results of a special November 7, 1995, election on the issue are as stark as COMBAT’s black-and-white logo.

By better than a 2-to-1 margin, voters overwhelmingly approve renewing the special county tax through March of 2004. The final gap shocks even the tax’s most ardent supporters: 71% vote to continue the tax compared to just 29% against.

Even Claire McCaskill is stunned. “I’m surprised that this tax would get this kind of support,” says the Jackson County Prosecutor. “The people realize investing in drug education for our kids is extremely important.”

She adds, “The community is speaking very loudly and clearly.”2

The 1995 ballot measure also calls for forming a COMBAT Commission to increase oversight of the anti-drug tax fund and to make recommendations about the awarding of prevention and treatment grants. With passage of the measure, COMBAT administrators can assure local police department have the funds to save DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs that were imperil due to expiring grants from other resources.

The build-up to the November 1995 election sees COMBAT truly take off under Prosecutor McCaskill and COMBAT Administrator Jim Nunnelly’s leadership. Support for a whole slew of youth prevention programs increases. Meanwhile, the new Jackson County Drug Court continues to grow, the number of participants swelling to nearly 500 before the end of 1995.



“Suburbia needs to accept the fact that it does have a drug problem. It may be a different type of problem, but it still is a problem.”
 COMBAT Program Monitor Liz Sayers (November 1994)3



Jackson County has become a national leader in developing programs to address drug abuse and drug-related crime, concludes an advisory panel appointed to assess the impact of the county’s COMmunity Backed Anti-drug Tax initiative. The panel’s 19-page final report cites plenty of room for improvement, however, listing 18 recommendations. Those recommendations include greater collaboration among the various agencies receiving COMBAT funding and encouraging voters to renew the quarter-cent sales tax before it expires in March of 1997.

Panel member William T. Session emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach to dealing with drugs, rather than concentrating solely on law enforcement. “If you simply arrest and warehouse, it doesn’t work,” he tells the Jackson County Legislature. “Prevention and treatment have not gotten enough attention—they are a necessity. You’re not going to make much headway until you reduce demand.”4

As 1994 begins, about 65% of COMBAT funding is allocated to law enforcement, with the rest going toward prevention and treatment. That’s significantly different than how the federal government has chosen to utilize the funding it approves for fighting drugs. For years, about 85% of those federal dollars has gone strictly toward enforcement, although President Bill Clinton’s administration has pledged to start putting more resources into prevention and treatment.

“We’re ahead of the curve here,” points out Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill.

The number of drug cases the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has filed skyrocketed from 118 in 1988—the year before voters approved the anti-drug tax—to 956 in 1992. McCaskill states she doesn’t want everyone arrested to be tried and jailed. She wants to continue diverting those with addictions to the new Jackson County Drug Court, which first conveyed in October of 1993 and is now expecting to handle 500 cases in 1994.

Of the Drug Court’s rapid growth, McCaskill had previously said, “It’s rocking and rolling up there.”5


During a community clean-up, focusing on one drug house in particular on Myrtle Street in Kansas City, various COMBAT-supported agencies team up to do the hard work under a light rain: bagging trash… removing broken furniture… confiscating drug paraphernalia… disposing of used condoms...

But the volunteers carefully set aside items such as baby pictures and family Bibles, which are found among baggies lined with crack cocaine residue.

“This was a good house—once,” says a neighbor. “A family house.”

Such clean-up efforts will become a regular fixture of COMBAT’s comprehensive approach to shutting down drug houses and rescuing vulnerable neighborhoods.

“Kids may be setting up another drug house right now,” says Assistant Jackson County Prosecutor Bentia Williams, standing outside that Myrtle Street house. “But if they are, we’ll be back.”6


Two years after the court sentences him to 10 hours of community service—he stole a $2 trinket at local fair—Josef Coons now serves as a lawyer for the Eastern Jackson County Youth Court. The 16-year-old from Buckner calls the court “really neat” and believes it can help divert youthful offenders from becoming adult criminals. When the grant that supported the court expired, COMBAT provided $35,000 to save the program.

Police from Greenwood, Grain Valley, Oak Grove and Buckner can refer juveniles to appear before what is truly a court of their own peers—with underage lawyers like Coons and teen-age judges. COMBAT supports the Youth Court because it offers first-time offenders a chance to receive drug counseling.

The Youth Court is one of many initiatives COMBAT funds outside the urban core, stresses Liz Sayers, COMBAT’s program monitor for Eastern Jackson County. “Suburbia needs to accept the fact that it does have a drug problem,” she says, “It may be a different type of problem, but it still is a problem.”7


“Jackson Countians already were paying for drugs in a way that nobody wants to pay. Increasingly, young people were using and dealing—and dying.”
 Kansas City Star Editorial (October 8, 1995)8



COMBAT’s efforts to reach out to youth across Jackson County continues in 1995:

  • Funding the Kids’ Congress in March, featuring anti-drug projects presented by students from public and private schools throughout the county.9
  • Sponsoring an anti-drug play at McCoy Elementary School, performed by sixth graders for an audience of fourth graders.10
  • Awarding a grant to Together Grandview, so that the community organization could hold drug- and alcohol-free After Prom and After Graduation parties.11
  • Supporting “Striking Out To Be Drug Free,” a Saturday bowling program for more than 75 at-risk Kansas City School District students—a program that a KC social studies teacher started to bolster youngsters’ self-esteem and, in addition to bowling, teach them social skills.12

At the June monthly meeting he coordinates of COMBAT-funded agencies that work with at-risk youth, COMBAT Administrator Jim Nunnelly encourages the program providers to coordinate their efforts with the Jackson County Family Court. The court, Nunnelly stresses, needs more help providing services to children in need.

He shares the results of a survey that reveals the agencies’ youth clients are at high risk of becoming drug users or criminals:

  • Half had failed in school or dropped out.
  • Half had already committed an act of violence.
  • A third lived in high-crime neighborhoods.
  • A fifth had parents who abused drugs or alcohol.

Nunnelly points out the youth most at risk are obvious: “Their low self-esteem, their distrust of authority—it just pops out at you.”13


While COMBAT has been urging more collaboration from the non-profit agencies that receive funding for prevention and treatment programs, Captain Tom Phillips of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office reports there’s been greater cooperation among law enforcement agencies since the county adopted its anti-drug sales tax.

“Now the (police) chiefs have come together,” Phillips says during a panel discussion of Eastern Jackson County law officers, social workers and mental health providers. “Our intelligence units communicate with each other; our tactical units train together.”

The panel comes together before an audience of school administrators and community leaders, to promote available services made possible through COMBAT. Participants include the police departments from Lee’s Summit, Grandview, Buckner, Independence and Raytown, as well as Project Neighborhood, Comprehensive Mental Health, Research Mental Health and Independence Neighborhood Councils.14


Jackson County voters will be given a chance to renew COMBAT 16 months before the quarter-cent sales tax is set to expire March 31, 1997. The County Legislature approves an ordinance to put a measure on the November 7, 1995, ballot that would extend the tax through March 31, 2004 and also create a COMBAT Commission to review funding recommendations.15

The Kansas City Star had opposed this move by the Legislature. In a September 9 editorial, the newspaper expressed concerns that Legislators were rushing a renewal vote and potentially “endangering” all the good COMBAT is doing:

Many COMBAT programs already have success stories to their credit. Under COMBAT, drug houses have been shut down, arrests on drug charges are up, and statistics on drug-related crime are declining. Drug Court is succeeding so well in changing the lives of participants that it’s studied as a model by other cities.16


Despite its earlier reservations, The Kansas City Star strongly endorses the ballot measure to renew the anti-drug tax in editorials published October 8 and 29. The first Star editorial recalls the historic 1989 election that made Jackson County the first county in the nation to approve a sales tax dedicated to fighting drug abuse and drug crime:

That kind of foresight is rare for a community. It’s even rarer to put tax dollars to work that way. But when it comes to drugs, a community has only two choices: It can pay now, or it can pay later.

Jackson Countians already were paying for drugs in a way that nobody wants to pay. Increasingly, young people were using and dealing—and dying.17

That editorial calls drug addiction a “living hell” and praises COMBAT for supporting treatment programs and also funding prevention efforts because “it’s far easier not to get addicted in the first place.”

And in the October 29 editorial, The Star tells voters renewing the anti-drug tax “will continue to send a powerful and appropriate message, not only here, but to the rest of the country which has started watching our battle against drugs.”18 


Following up his paper’s previous editorials, Kansas City Star columnist Greg Clark declares Jackson Countians shouldn’t be hesitant to extend the anti-drug tax into 2004: 

COMBAT, the Community-Backed Anti-Drug Tax, can do more than treat the symptoms of drug abuse. When Jackson County voters decide Tuesday whether to renew the quarter-cent tax, they'll decide about prevention, treatment and enforcement programs that are saving lives—and lowering crime.
The renewal, which would stretch through March 31, 2004, would offer a powerful remedy to drug abuse.
The biggest knock on COMBAT is that it took too long to pay dividends. Voters overwhelmingly supported it in 1989, but it didn't take root until 1993.

But since then, violent crime has plummeted, drug houses have been bulldozed, dealers have become acquainted with prisons and education programs have flourished.19

Meanwhile, many Jackson County police departments are seeing their existing grants for DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) expiring, putting them in the position of either pulling officers off patrol or eliminating their DARE programs. DARE focuses on reaching out to grade school children to encourage them to remain drug-free.

COMBAT is coming to the rescue, however, as it’ll continue funding DARE throughout Jackson County, if voters extend the tax. 


When all the votes are counted, the support for extending the Jackson County anti-drug tax is overwhelming. It’s a landslide, with 71% of voters approving the measure to renew the tax through March of 2004.

The lopsided outcome stuns Jackson Prosecutor Claire McCaskill: “I’m surprised that this tax would get this kind of support. The people realize investing in drug education for our kids is extremely important.”

She adds, “The community is speaking very loudly and clearly.”20

1 The Kansas City Star November 2, 1995

The Kansas City Star November 8, 1995

The Kansas City Star November 24, 1994

The Kansas City Sar January 10, 1994

The Kansas City Star December 3, 1993

6 The Kansas City Star March 20, 1994

7 The Kansas City Star November 24, 1994

The Kansas City Sar October 8, 1995

The Kansas City Sar March 23, 1995

10 The Kansas City Star March 23, 1995

11 The Kansas City Star April 20, 1995

12 The Kansas City Star May 15, 1995

13 The Kansas City Star June 15, 1995

14 The Kansas City Star August 23, 1995

15 The Kansas City Star September 11, 1995

16 The Kansas City Star September 9, 1995

17 The Kansas City Star, October 8, 1995

18 The Kansas City Star October 29, 1995

19 The Kansas City Star November 2, 1995

20 The Kansas City Star November 8, 1995

» PART 5