How to spend $1 million

Thursday, November 4, 2004

We like the common-sense approach the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau advisory board is taking toward finding ways to use the city's $1 million tax surplus. The board contemplates spending only half the money and wants it to be used as seed money for larger projects. The board so far has backed away from any big-ticket items such as a water park or hockey rink.

The advisory board members have winnowed suggestions from the public and themselves down to 23 spending proposals in five categories: signs and beautification, historic projects, exhibits, riverfront improvements, and marketing. The proposals include a downtown amphitheater and restrooms, and the development of driving tours, a science center and a trolley system.

No dollar figures have been attached to any of the proposals as yet.

Typically, the city would provide 25 percent of the cost of the project and no more than 50 percent, in the advisory board's thinking.

The $1 million represents surplus hotel and restaurant taxes taken in by the city. The surplus grew considerably with the retirement in April of $5 million in bonds that financed the Show Me Center construction and $5.1 million in bonds that paid for the Shawnee Park soccer fields complex and the Osage Community Centre.

Under a 1998 measure approved by voters increasing the motel gross receipts tax to 4 percent from 3 percent and extending both the motel and restaurant taxes to 2030, revenue can only be used to fund CVB operations and to pay off bonds for the River Campus beginning this month. A settlement reached earlier this year with businessman Jim Drury put an annual limit of 3 percent on the growth of the CVB's budget unless tax revenue increases by at least 7 percent in a year.

That limitation means any major tourism projects will have to be funded by the surplus.

The Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce board of directors this week forwarded the advisory group's recommendations to the Cape Girardeau City Council. The chamber operates the CVB under a contract with the city.

The Cape Girardeau City Council will make the final decision on how the money is spent.

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