Storm-water abatement funding lost in tax talk

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Storm-water abatement is hardly an exciting subject. That could be why Cape Girardeau's Public Works Department seems to have gotten lost in discussions about the proposed half-cent tax for parks improvements and storm-water abatement.

"It's easy to get confused about this. People say, 'What's one got to do with the other?'" said Tim Gramling, public works director. "There's a certain number of people who will always be against a tax,"

Parks and storm-water improvement funding has been connected since being linked in the 1995 state statute creating the half-cent tax.

Gramling said he sees advantages and disadvantages to the pairing.

In many cases, parks and recreation is so appealing, storm-water funding will "ride the coattails" of a parks' tax, he said.

In 2003, a stand-alone storm-water tax was proposed as a permanent addition to utility bills. That tax -- and three others on the ballot -- was soundly defeated by voters.

The current proposed half-cent sales tax has a 10-year limit, except for one-eighth of a cent, which would pay for operating costs. The sales tax would be paid by Cape Girardeau residents and anyone shopping inside city limits. According to the proposal by the parks and recreation advisory board, most of the revenue would pay for an estimated $25 million in parks and recreation projects and $3 million in storm-water abatement. Some of the storm-water work includes bringing facilities up to state and federal standards.

While reviewing the latest version of the proposal, Ward 6 city councilwoman Marcia Ritter asked parks' board members how the mandated work would get done if voters nix the sales-tax proposal. She heard the same answer city officials gave when the 2003 storm-water ballot measure failed: The work will get done as the city can afford to pay for it.

"If we get all this money, is it going to solve all the problems in the city?" Gramling asked Friday, glancing at a notebook filled with specific projects and figures. He answered his own question with a negative shake of his head.

"People don't understand, when we talk about a 100-year flood or a 200-year flood," he said. "It's a measure of the magnitude of the flood."

He said planners calculate risks in designing safety measures. But a disastrous flood or snowstorm, or even a tornado, can instantly change project priorities.

335-6611, extension 127

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