Capital improvements tax renewal is important at several levels

On Aug. 6, Cape Girardeau voters will decide whether to renew a quarter-cent “capital improvements” sales tax that is critical to our water system. Mayor Bob Fox and city manager Scott Meyer, who recently met with the Southeast Missourian editorial board, said nearly half ($18 million over 15 years) of the renewed tax would go toward replacing old, galvanized pipes with stronger PVC. Replacing these water mains throughout the city will reduce leaks, breaks and prevent boil-water advisories. In addition, improvements would be made to the city’s two water plants, as well as to enhance water pressure.

Such investment is vital to public health.

The next big chunk of the renewed tax, $7.5 million over 15 years, would go toward street maintenance, followed by $6 million for renovating the Common Pleas Courthouse into a new city hall. Fox said street repair is one of the biggest areas of complaints in the city. Meanwhile, improving the courthouse and turning it into city hall creates a sustainable use for Cape Girardeau’s most iconic building, while saving the cost of improving the deficient – and largely inaccessible – current space in a former school building. The city can’t afford fixing up both structures; prioritization is necessary.

“We can’t let Common Pleas Courthouse go,” Fox told the board. “We have to maintain it.” Alternative uses for the courthouse were not feasible without extensive city investment anyway, the mayor said.

In addition to the $6 million from the capital improvements tax, the city would add $6 million from its casino fund, bringing the total investment in Common Pleas and a new structure between the courthouse and annex to $12 million.

Finally, the tax would generate $4.25 million for a new airport terminal, which would also receive $2.55 million via an FAA grant thanks to increased boardings in Cape Girardeau.

“Like most things, not everyone agrees with everything in there,” Fox told the editorial board. “But this is a big deal for the city. Sixty percent of the tax is paid for by people who don’t live here.” If the tax isn’t renewed, water system improvements would need to be generated from fees, the mayor said.

In the City of Cape Girardeau, most of our local sales tax is tied to specific projects that are “sunsetted.” This is a good thing. It means our government is forced to seek our approval in order to continue a tax, while it encourages local government to report clearly what it has done with prior funds and to be transparent about future initiatives. The downside: Voters can become fatigued — even dismayed — by frequent votes on whether to continue one tax or another and fail to discriminate between luxury items — which may elevate the quality of life but are not strictly necessary — and essential services — which would seriously diminish the community if not funded.

Renewal of the capital improvements tax, for the most part, addresses critical needs and solves long-term problems. It also shifts part of the burden for city services to those who visit and shop here, using city streets, but living elsewhere. Election day is Aug. 6.