Major decisions

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tuesday is a big day for voters. Dozens of city council, board of aldermen, town board and school board members will be chosen. And key tax issues are on the ballot in Perry County, Cape Girardeau and elsewhere. (See today's special election section in the Southeast Missourian, and visit semissourian.com to review all of this year's articles about candidates and issues.)

One of the biggest decisions for Cape Girardeau voters is the proposed $25 million bond issue for parks and storm-water improvements that would be funded by a half-cent increase in the city's sales tax. If approved, the total retail sales tax in Cape Girardeau would be 7.975 percent.

Under this proposal, voter approval (requiring a simple majority) would allow the city to generate $25 million quickly to pay for a sizable list of projects.

Storm-water projects

Of considerable interest in the wake of recent flash flooding and with forecasts for more rainfall are the 12 storm-water improvements that would be funded: detention and runoff control at Arena Park, along Optimist Drive and at the Lisa Street retention basin; channel stabilization at Breckenridge Branch and the Dorothy Street drainage area; street flooding on Cape Rock Drive at Scivally Park, Themis Street at Silver Springs Road. Howell Street, Margaret and Janet streets and the 2400 block of Melrose Street; replacement and repair of the Merriwether drainage tunnel and Beaver Creek retention basin; and flood control with the LaSalle retention basin flood monitor.

These are projects that would alleviate serious storm-water runoff problems. Currently, the city has no other funding sources for these projects. The cost for these projects is $3 million.

Another chunk of the bond issue, $2 million, would be spent on upgrading aging city equipment.

Parks improvements

The biggest portion would go to parks improvements. While city parks have been well-maintained for years, little money has been available for upgrades and improvements. The bond issue would cover a family aquatic center; remodeling the Arena Building; improving Shawnee Park Sports Complex by adding restrooms, concessions, fences, lighting and parking; building a community center on the city's south side; installing an elevated walking track inside Osage Community Centre; rebuilding and irrigating greens at Jaycee Municipal Golf Course; expanding the walking and hiking trails; adding lighting and fencing for Arena and Capaha parks' fields; and making general parks improvements. The bond issue would also pay for a new air-exchange system for Central Municipal Pool, known as the Bubble.

Park officials have worked diligently over the past year to streamline the package to be included in the proposed bond issue. In addition, a sunset provision has been included for most of the sales-tax increase. The larger portion of the sales tax would end in 10 years, at which time the city could decide if it wants to ask voters for an extension. The smaller portion would remain in place to pay for ongoing operational expenses associated with the improvements.

Reasonable plan

While the bond issue won't satisfy everyone, it is fairly clear that supporters have taken special efforts to put together a reasonable plan that would benefit from the upfront sales of bonds to fund projects immediately instead of spreading those projects over a as-funds-are-available schedule. And the partial sunset provisions is a crucial part of the plan, giving taxpayers an assurance that the biggest part of the tax will be reviewed in 10 years.

The Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce board has given its endorsement to the plan. Voters will have to decide what they want the city's parks and storm-water system to be in the future.

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