Cape mayor says park board decision on tax is 'no issue'

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board's decision to retain its plan for a half-cent sales-tax proposal will not spark a political war.

"It's no issue," he said. "It's not even controversial."

On July 9, the city council asked parks and recreation board members to downscale their request for a tax increase to fund an estimated $36.9 million in improvements to parks and the city's storm-water system. One-eighth of the tax would pay the costs of operating the city's parks. The council asked the board to deliver a proposal for a quarter-cent increase with a five- or 10-year limit. But at the parks and recreation board's meeting Monday, members decided to reject the council's request.

Though he called the opinion gap between the city council and parks board healthy, Knudtson said residents have been inundated with taxes.

"Our citizens have been faced with significant increases over the last 24 months," he said, citing taxes for the library, police and fire services.

Knudtson said the council has the option of altering recommendations, which he said would include reducing the proposed half-cent tax to a quarter-cent and limiting the number of years the tax can be collected.

He said residents also have the option of circulating a petition to put a different measure on the ballot. Petitions need signatures of 10 percent of the total number of voters registered in the last election to be considered valid, according to the city's charter.

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider, who represents Ward 4 in northwest Cape Girardeau, said she wants to see a prioritized list from the board.

"We owe it to the citizens who really want these park improvements to put it on the ballot and give them the chance to vote on it," she said.

Councilman Charlie Herbst, who represents Ward 2 in the southeast, said he's been getting mixed messages from voters.

"We have to go by what our constituents want, but sometimes boards make decisions that aren't popular," he said.

He wondered what parks and storm-water systems will look like in 20 years without improvements and suggested fewer would be needed if the city council 15 years ago had made a long-term plan,

Herbst is a member of the Cape Noon Optimist Club, which is about to donate more than $40,000 worth of playground equipment to Shawnee Park Sports Complex. But he said the city shouldn't expect service clubs to be responsible for all park improvements.

"The sales tax is going to have to be the answer," he said. "We talk about trash service. People pay for that. People pay for water and these services pay for themselves. Parks and recreation doesn't pay for itself, and it's not going to."

He would like to see a plan similar to the transportation trust fund, a half-cent, five-year tax approved by voters in 1995, extended for five years in 2000 and again in 2005.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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