North county residents lobbied for support of sales tax proposal

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Officials headed to Delta today to speak with residents in the southwest corner of the county.

DAISY -- A small but supportive group of north Cape Girardeau County residents greeted county commissioners Monday when they pitched a sales tax measure for county roads and law enforcement.

Only 14 people showed up for the town meeting at the Coon Hunters Lodge at the junction of Routes B and AA. And despite voicing criticism of the way county roads have been handled in the past, when asked about how they would vote on Proposition 1 everyone said they would vote for the measure.

Andrea Kester, who lives along County Road 405 in the northwest corner of the county, said she is tired of dust, flat tires and narrow roads. "I need my road paved bad," Kester said. "The safety of our kids on school buses should be a high priority."

The three commissioners were joined by Sheriff John Jordan as they sought to explain the details of the tax proposal. They will appear again at 7 p.m. today at the Delta Community Center to speak with residents in the southwest corner of the county.

Ballot item

Proposition 1 would increase the sales tax by one-half cent if approved Aug. 8. The measure would raise about $5.9 million the first year, with the money split between eliminating property taxes paid for roads and bridges, an accelerated county paving program and an expanded sheriff's department.

Jordan noted that he and his son often use the lodge when they hunt raccoons. "But tonight we are not looking for raccoons," he said. "We are looking for support."

Commissioner Jay Purcell, who represents Cape Girardeau on the commission, led off the presentation. He acknowledged that asking for a tax hike is a difficult thing to sell.

"All taxes, no matter how worthy, are generally perceived negatively," he said. "We are flatly being beat up in the press. But by talking to you, we think we can win your support."

By eliminating the property taxes paid for roads and bridges county wide and in the Cape Girardeau Special Road District, Purcell said, everyone with real estate and personal property will get a break. Most of the extra money raised by the tax measure, he said, will be paid by outsiders who visit Cape Girardeau County to shop.

Purcell and Jordan were joined by Commissioner Larry Bock, Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and county highway administrator Scott Bechtold.

The first question came from Cletus Rohde, who lives along County Road 419. He wanted to know whether any specific amount for road improvements would be allotted to the north end of the county.

Residents across the northern portion of the county believe too much of the current paving program focuses on county roads immediately around Jackson.

"People on the north end of the county feel we don't get our share," Rohde said.

Purcell replied that the commission admits past mistakes, but added that he believes the new County Road and Bridge Advisory Committee will help correct those errors. The advisory committee will be organized by taking one member from each of the 10 townships with one at-large member.

That distribution, based on geography rather than population, assures rural residents at least eight members.

"You are going to be vested in that process," Purcell promised.

And Jones added that part of the reason residents in the northern portion of the county feel slighted is that the money now used for paving, about $300,000 annually, only allows for about six miles of county roads to be paved each year.

Striving for a balance

"We consciously try to balance it," Jones said. The new revenue, he said, will increase the miles paved to as much as 15 miles a year when the paving program is fully implemented.

At one point, residents attending said they believe the tax is popular in rural areas of the county but doomed to defeat in Cape Girardeau and Jackson. "All the people in town are not wanting to give us more out here," Rohde said. "What about us going into town and giving them more?"

Of the estimated $5.9 million in revenue from the tax, about $3.1 million will represent new money for the county to spend. The money will be split between the sheriff's department and the road program.

In the sheriff's department, deputies will get a raise to bring them close to par with Cape Girardeau police officers, Jordan said. The raises would eliminate costly turnover, he said.

And new deputies would give rural residents more responsive law enforcement.

Not all the money allocated to the sheriff's portion would be needed right away and commissioners promised that the excess would be used for more blacktop or a dust control program.

The choice, Purcell said, would be up to the advisory board.

"Basically, we just want good, level-headed people who care about the community," Purcell said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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