Council to vote on public safety trust fund

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

The Cape Girardeau City Council will vote on establishing a public safety trust fund today in a move city officials say will fulfill a public promise to city residents that the newly approved fire sales tax will be spent on fire and police department needs.

"I believe this is about a firm commitment to do what we are saying we are going to do," Mayor Jay Knudtson said. "Citizens often times are extremely skeptical of city hall and government in general."

Knudtson said the public safety trust fund should provide accountability to the public.

The council is scheduled to give first reading to an ordinance that would establish the trust fund and spell out exactly what public safety improvements will be made and when.

It also requires city finance director John Richbourg to report to the council twice a year on all public safety trust fund receipts and disbursements.

"We tried to really tailor this along the lines of the transportation trust fund," said city manager Doug Leslie, referring to the transportation sales tax that goes to fund various road improvement projects.

Under state law, the fire sales tax money must be earmarked to fund the fire department. But that will free up money in the general fund that will help the police department, city officials said.

As a result, the proposed ordinance stipulates that an amount of money equal to the fire sales tax revenue will be placed in the public safety trust to finance improvements to the fire and police departments, Leslie said.

According to the proposed ordinance, the city would buy five new fire trucks, scheduled from June 2005 to June 2006; and a new ladder truck, scheduled for June 2011. The existing ladder truck would be refurbished as early as December 2006.

The measure also states that the city will purchase 10 police cars annually over the next 10 years to upgrade its aging fleet.

The measure also promises construction of a new fire station, starting in spring 2005, to replace the city's antiquated Emerald Street station. The new station would be built on North Sprigg Street near Blanchard Elementary School and include a new fire and police dispatching center and an emergency operations center.

Construction of the new fire station could take about a year, Leslie said.

Also on the schedule of public safety improvements in 2005 are renovations to the police station, including replacing the heating and cooling systems which have been plagued with repeated mechanical problems over the years; as well renovations to the main fire station and replacement of the roofs on two other fire stations.

The measure also states that the city would buy new breathing equipment for firefighters every two years, new communication equipment for police and fire departments annually, new extrication equipment in 2005 and new fire suits every five years.

Voters on June 8 overwhelming approved the quarter-cent fire sale tax. Half of the tax -- the part earmarked for construction and equipment -- will automatically expire at the end of 10 years. The other half, which will go to pay operating needs such as pay raises for the police department, is a permanent tax.

Knudtson said the public safety ordinance would assure that the city has a "report card" in 10 years as to how it spent its fire sales tax money.

335-6611, extension 123

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