Cape tax talk gets few voters to come to Arena

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Cape Girardeau city officials preached the merits of four tax issues to a largely empty room Tuesday night at the A.C. Brase Arena Building.

Three hundred chairs were set up for the meeting, but only about 30 people showed up, including nearly a dozen city officials and city employees.

But leaders of the Citizens Finance Task Force, which proposed the tax issues appearing on the April 8 ballot and scheduled Tuesday's meeting, said they weren't disappointed by the turnout.

The task force sent out 1,700 postcards inviting city residents affected by storm-drainage problems to attend the meeting.

Voters decided

But Melvin Gateley, who co-chairs the task force, said the low turnout suggests many city residents living in areas with storm-drainage problems already know about the tax issues and have decided how they will vote.

City officials say the tax money would go to improve storm drainage, as well as pay operating expenses, replace aging equipment, build a new fire station to replace a 52-year-old facility on Emerald Street, expand the police station and construct a water park.

City officials are asking voters to pass: a quarter-cent sales tax for fire department needs, a 2 percent local-use tax on out-of-state purchases above $2,000, a monthly storm-water fee and an extension of a 10-cent property tax.

It's a small price to pay, city officials said, estimating it would cost taxpayers less than $100 a year.

Nancy Jernigan, co-chair of the task force, said she hopes city residents understand that the April tax issues could solve storm-drainage problems.

The monthly storm-water fee would range from $1.75 a month to as high as $5.25 a month for households, depending on the building's footprint or first-floor square footage. Businesses would pay 7.5 cents per month per 100 square feet of the building footprint and paved surfaces.

For many homeowners, the fee will amount to $3.50 a month, city officials said.

The monthly fee would raise an estimated $7.4 million over the next 10 years, with about $3.5 million earmarked for 14 storm-drainage projects. Most of the rest would go to maintain drainage ditches, culverts and pipes. The city also would hire a storm-water coordinator.

The tax issues combined would provide an estimated $4.13 million a year in added revenue for Cape Girardeau city government.

City manager Michael Miller said the city needs all of that revenue.

But some taxpayers aren't so sure.

James Coley, co-owner of a bed-and-breakfast inn on South Sprigg, said after the meeting that he supports the storm-water fee and extending the property tax, but he isn't sold on the quarter-cent sales tax and the use tax. Both are sales taxes, he said.

Coley said increasing sales taxes adds to customers' costs.

Miller said the tax issues, among other things, would provide $1.3 million a year in added revenue to pay operating expenses.

Those projected expenses include hiring a consultant to do a study of city employee salaries to determine where salaries need to be raised to be more competitive with other municipal governments, Miller said.

But Coley told city officials they should scrap that idea. "Don't pay a consultant to do a study to find out we aren't paying somebody enough money," he said.

Sandy Courtney, who lives on Optimist Drive bordering Arena Park, favors plans to improve storm drainage along Arena Creek, which borders her residence. But she said after the meeting that she won't vote for the tax issues because she isn't registered to vote.

Gene LaFont, a used-car dealer, wants storm drainage improved near his dealership on South Kingshighway.

"I'll vote for it," he said. "It's not much money."

335-6611, extension 123

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