Residents pass on attending Cape fire tax forum

Friday, May 14, 2004

Representatives from the police and fire departments were there. Mayor Jay Knudtson came. City manager Doug Leslie and Doug Austin of a residents' committee to pass the tax were prepared to give their presentations on the proposed fire sales tax issue. But no one from the public came to the Arena Building Thursday evening to learn about the proposal, which will be voted on June 8.

Leslie was philosophical about the lack of a turnout.

"The important thing is we gave them an opportunity," he said.

Leslie said two more public hearings are planned at different sections of the city to give all residents an opportunity to hear what the sales tax means for residents and for the city. Leslie and others involved are also willing to speak to any organization about the proposal between now and June 8, and he encourages individuals with questions to call him at city hall. The important thing, he said, is that voters are informed.

So, for the benefit of the press who also came, Leslie gave his presentation, outlining the plans to use the $2 million in revenue the tax is expected to bring in.

The sales tax increase, half of which will phase out after 10 years, will cost the average household approximately $44 a year, Leslie said. It is a fair tax, he said, because unlike a property tax, everyone who uses the services in the city will pay for them.

Half of the sales tax revenue would be used for capital purchases over a 10-year period, to replace or modernize three new pumper trucks and build a new fire station No. 3 on city-owned land near Blanchard Elementary School. The new fire station would also house the emergency operations and 911 communications center. The revenue would also pay for a new ladder truck and refurbish the city's existing ladder truck, which malfunctioned during a house fire March 11. It would pay for a new four-wheel drive, multi-terrain, multi-purpose fire truck and a new rescue boat. It would pay for new fire and police equipment. Money would be available to renovate fire station No. 1, and there would also be money to replace up to 10 aging police cars a year.

The other half of the tax, which would not expire, would be used for continued operating expenses for police and fire departments and would free up money from the general fund to be used in other areas: providing competitive salaries for police and firefighters to attract and keep highly qualified personnel in those departments.

A simple majority will decide the vote.

Making these improvements, Leslie said, will help take the city's fire insurance rating up one step and lower fire insurance rates for home and business owners.

Leslie said the money generated by the quarter-cent sales tax will be put into a trust fund much the same as the transportation tax money which was passed to provide road repairs and build streets.

Doug Austin of the residents' committee supporting passage of the tax said he was at first opposed to a sales tax increase until he learned what the city's needs were. He compared himself to those who bought electric drills.

"They didn't want an electric drill, what they wanted was a hole," he said. "I don't want a tax increase, but I want what it will get for me. I want Cape Girardeau to grow and prosper."

335-6611, extension 160

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