Cape council, staff mull myriad topics at daylong retreat

Sunday, April 29, 2012

There were new ideas, such as more high-dollar water toys for Cape Splash Family Aquatic Center and finding what looks to be expensive land for a new industrial park. There were updates on old themes, including a forthcoming rental inspections program and how best to manage deer that roam inside the city limits.

And there were even a few surprises, including a suggestion that the idea of a smoking ban be revisited and a delicate conversation about the city's ability to condemn the Plaza Galleria, the former skating rink that has sat without a tenant for at least a decade.

The Cape Girardeau City Council's annual retreat Friday touched on almost every aspect of local government, from budgets and taxes to pleas from department heads to address what they see as vital needs. While no decisions were reached Friday, the daylong retreat at the Osage Centre offered some insight into what could become city priorities over the next five years. Considering that much of the retreat served simply as a brainstorming session, some of those suggestions may never come to pass.

Councilwoman Loretta Schneider brought up one of the day's bigger surprises, saying she would favor a citywide smoking ban at least for restaurants. Last year, Cape Girardeau voters rejected a proposed smoking ban in bars and restaurants by about 300 votes. Schneider said that voters said no, in her opinion, only because the proposal was too restrictive.

"I believe allowing smoking really hurts their business," Schneider said. "And obviously it's a health issue."

Councilman John Voss said he was conflicted and reluctant to dictate policy to a private business. But he said he would "enjoy a smoke-free Cape more" than one that allows smoking in public places. While some council members talked like they didn't want to touch the issue, Voss said he would be willing to continue talking about it, noting the council could be proactive and pass a less restrictive ordinance.

Voss did acknowledge such an attempt would likely come with public backlash.

"It will be controversial," Voss said. "I don't know if we have the fortitude to handle it, quite honestly. ... We will take some arrows in the back, I guarantee you."

In other discussions, Mayor Harry Rediger noted during a briefing on development services that city and economic development officials have been looking for land to convert into a new economic development park. Such land costs anywhere from $17,000 to $40,000 an acre, Rediger said, calling the need a "huge issue that's looming out there."

Parks and Recreation Department director Julia Thompson told the council that a final recommendation for upgrades to Capaha Park and the city's trail system should be brought to them by September. A master plan for how to move forward with the city's parks system should also be in place to serve as a "developed strategy" before a possible vote to extend the city's parks sales tax in 2018.

Councilman Mark Lanzotti told Thompson that he'd heard from constituents that not enough aquatics features were at Cape Splash for children ages 10-15. Thompson responded that such features, like water slides, can sometimes cost as much as $750,000.

"I'm not saying we have the money to do them," Lanzotti said. " ... I'm not suggesting that's a negative. I'm just saying it's a perception."

Also in the planning stages are specialized parks for dogs and skateboarders, Thompson said, which have been discussed before.

Police chief Carl Kinnison reiterated his need for a new or expanded police department, calling it a "constant struggle" to try to make do in such cramped quarters.

Fire chief Rick Ennis talked about what he feels is a need for more storm sirens. The council seemed interested in at least funding four more to bring the city's total to eight at a cost of about $100,000. Ennis said the biggest issue facing the department, however, is expanding its emergency medical service to include ambulance transportation.

"We've been kind of dancing around the subject for the past several years," Ennis said.

Council members agreed that the issue needs to be explored, with at least some of them expressing frustration at the city fire trucks beating private ambulances to medical calls only to see the reimbursement for services go to the private ambulance company, and not to the fire department.

During a general council discussion, the council also talked about deer management, a controversial issue that has been hotly contested for months. At least five of the council members -- Voss, Rediger, Lanzotti, Trent Summers and Meg Davis Proffer -- indicated Friday that they supported an managed archery hunt in the city limits. Councilwoman Loretta Schneider, who favors trapping the deer, said she would vote against it. City staff is bringing back a plan that considers several options at the council's May 21 meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, before the council went into closed session, Lanzotti brought up the Plaza Galleria and what it would take to condemn the building, raze it and make it available for development. Lanzotti noted that the former ice-skating rink is in a prime and growing economic development area and his comments suggested frustration at it sitting vacant so long.

City attorney Eric Cunningham said that it could be done under the city's dangerous buildings ordinance, specifying that it would not be taken by eminent domain.

Another highlight from the retreat included a likely 2-percent cost-of-living adjustment for city employees, which is 1 percent higher than last year, which would cost the city about $280,000.


Pertinent address:

1625 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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