Cape County lays out expanded paving schedule with tax increase

Friday, June 9, 2006

The program will be discussed at a public hearing set for June 19.

A proposal for an accelerated county road-paving program states that Cape Girardeau County could blacktop an extra 19 miles of gravel roads during the first six years of a half-cent sales-tax increase.

The detailed program, presented to the Cape Girardeau County Commission by county highway administrator Scott Bechtold, is subject to change and will be discussed at a public hearing June 19.

The tax increase, known as Proposition 1, will be on the Aug. 8 ballot. The tax, which would raise about $5.9 million annually, would also pay for eliminating property taxes dedicated to roads and adding patrol hours for the sheriff's department.

Under the scenarios presented by Bechtold, the county could pave 33.75 miles of road by 2012 with current revenue. The extra funds from a tax increase would allow the county to pave 53 miles of roads during the same period.

The 46 projects on the accelerated list range in length from about one-half mile to a little more than 3 miles. The entire length of the road would be paved in only a handful of the projects.

The projects reflect a mix of requests from across the county, Bechtold said. "We spread it around. We are not doing all the paving around Jackson."

During the meeting, the tax proposal and the rules for putting a road on the county's list were questioned by Delbert Mueller, who lives on County Road 316 northwest of Cape Girardeau.

"People are critical of this tax already," Mueller told the commissioners.

The criteria for winning a spot on the list must be clear to voters and fair, Mueller said. "You probably voiced the opinion of hundreds of people in the county," Commissioner Jay Purcell replied.

Under current eligibility rules, property owners must grant the county easements along a stretch of road that connects with other paved roads. Every property owner in the stretch of road must agree or the project won't be listed.

Mueller's statements sparked a discussion of the rules, with commissioners suggesting that a change could be necessary. "The present policy we've got probably needs refinement," Commissioner Larry Bock said.

Changes suggested during the discussion include setting priorities based on traffic counts and safety concerns. Purcell also suggested the county should consider looking at paving roads for their entire length instead of short stretches.

Sheriff John Jordan, whose department would also benefit from the tax increase, cautioned commissioners to listen closely to any criticism of their plan. "The best ideas are forged in adversity," Jordan said. "The public has to believe it is fundamentally fair. If it looks like something is unfair, it is out the window."

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones said he's ready to listen. "Even if a guy is contentious, that is fine," he said.

After leaving the meeting Mueller said the commissioners should hold a public hearing in the evening. "You want as many in there as possible."

The June 19 public hearing is set for the commissioners' regular Monday meeting, which begins at 9 a.m.

The meeting ended with commissioners and officeholders discussing how to explain and sell voters on the half-cent sales tax increase. The three commissioners, County Clerk Rodney Miller, Jordan and former auditor H. Weldon Macke took part in the discussion.

Commissioners have pointed to a push from Macke for the tax as their inspiration to put it on the ballot.

A major selling point, they said, is that the ballot measure is the first county tax increase request since 1982. Another advantage of the tax, they said, is that a large portion -- 40 percent or more -- would be paid by nonresidents drawn by shopping opportunities in the county.

But arguments based on outsiders paying the tax should be muted for fear of alienating people who view Cape Girardeau and Jackson as shopping hubs, Macke warned. "I wouldn't want to emphasize that too much," he said.

Another big plus that should be emphasized, they said, is that the measure will save money on property taxes for everyone who owns real estate or a car. "It is keeping property taxes low in Cape Girardeau County, and that is great for the people who live here," Jordan said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126


The Cape Girardeau County Commission received two lists of road paving projects on Thursday, one funded by current revenue and a second if voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase on Aug. 8.

2007

Current revenue: County roads 327/324; 361, 365, 364; 381; 412; 411; 419; 422, 425; 435; 450: 8.95 total miles.

Accelerated: same

2008

Current revenue: 383; 436; 439; 506; 513: 5 miles

Accelerated: 383; 436; 439; 471; 506; 513: 8.45 miles

2009

Current revenue: 244; 389; 415; 451; 471; 607: 4.8 miles

Accelerated: 244; 249; 250; 389; 415; 440; 451; 465/468; 514; 607: 9.5 miles.

2010

Current revenue: 250; 440; 465/468; 514: 5.1 miles

Accelerated: 228; 231; 233; 318; 370; 405; 450; 501; 553: 9.45 miles

2011

Current revenue: 231; 233; 249; 405; 450; 553: 4.95 miles

Accelerated: 259; 413; 422, 425; 444, 442; 623: 9.05 miles

2012

Current revenue: 228; 318; 370; 422,425; 501; 506: 4.95 miles

Accelerated: 259; 327; 343; 360, 361, 363; 380; 512; 522: 7.55 miles

SOURCE: Cape Girardeau County Highway Department

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