Half a sunset

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The addition of a sunset clause, even one that applies only to half a proposed sales tax, should make a new fire sales tax more palatable to Cape Girardeau voters. But a full sunset would be better.

The Cape Girardeau City Council voted last week to put a quarter-cent fire sales tax on the ballot in a June special election. The ordinance will receive its final readings Monday, a month before the deadline for getting on the June ballot.

The council originally considered putting no sunset provision in the tax, which will generate about $2 million annually for the fire department. One of the proponents of a sunset provision was Mayor Jay Knudtson, who lobbied for the full tax to end after 10 years. The half-a-sunset is the compromise.

(A sunset provision specifies when a tax will end. The proposed sunset for half of the proposed quarter-cent sales tax would be 10 years after it goes into effect. Some council members say the other half is needed to maintain the fire department's operations.)

Last year, citing soft sales-tax revenue, the city proposed a package of four taxes, including a quarter-cent tax that would have benefited the fire department. The entire package would have generated an extra $4 million a year and also would have helped pay for renovations to the police department, storm-water projects and build a $6.53 million aquatic park.

That package had no sunset provision. Cape Girardeau voters overwhelmingly rejected the taxes.

The city's sales-tax revenue projections remain soft. The city's need for major projects and equipment remains. This time, the council is asking for less overall but the same amount for the fire department, which needs to replace much of its fleet and replace a fire station in the northern part of the city.

As an extra incentive to voters, members of the city council will forgo their salaries this year, saving the city $9,000. That is the approximate cost of the special election to be held in June.

We -- and, we believe, most taxpayers -- would prefer a full sunset provision for the proposed quarter-cent sales tax. Opponents of a full sunset have failed to make a good case. What is wrong with requiring the Cape Girardeau City Council to convince voters 10 years from now that it is making good use of city funds?

The council still has time to impose a full sunset provision as it gives final approval to the June vote.

The efficacy of the city's fire department is important to everyone, from those who need help in an emergency to those who pay premiums for home insurance. The need remains -- both for the extra revenue and for a full sunset provision.

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