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Editorial: Cape Girardeau is planning for major needs

Saturday, November 3, 2001

P The current wish list totaling nearly $50 million will guide the city budgeting process as the most urgent needs are assessed and ways to pay for those needs are developed.

Anyone who looked closely at the spending wish list of various Cape Girardeau city departments -- published in the Southeast Missourian last Sunday -- could easily have been frightened by some of the big numbers. For those who took the time to add up all the items, ranging from a $14,000 automobile for development services to a $5 million golf course, the total for everything came to just short of $50 million.

Clearly, the folks who make wish lists don't expect to get everything all at once. As city officials prepare budgets for the coming year, some thought also is being given to how major improvements can be done in stages and spread out over a number of years. For example, the Parks Department would like to spend $3 million for shelters, restrooms, play areas, a skate park and the like over the next 20 years.

The biggest task for budget planners, of course, is deciding which items are needed right away and which ones can be put off. A new golf course likely can wait a lot longer than adding a firefighter.

Six revenue-generating ideas

Once the priorities are in place, the next big task is figuring out how to pay for the items at the top of the list. So far, city officials have come up with no less than six ideas for generating more revenue. Each has its merits, and a combination of new fees and taxes is likely to receive the most serious consideration.

As the city proceeds through the budget process, it should consider seeking public input. Some parts of city government, like the airport and Parks Department, have citizen advisory boards that help decide what's needed and what's needed the most. But other areas of city government have few formal avenues for soliciting the advice and concerns of residents, although any resident is certainly free to show up at City Hall for council meetings and speak his mind.

City residents have demonstrated a willingness to participate in and give their approval to well-planned spending programs. The city's Transportation Trust Fund for major street improvements is well into its second five-year plan. Voters approved the second plan largely because they could see the successful results of the first five-year plan.

The same could be expected for a plan to increase city revenue: Show the need, set priorities, establish and schedule and put it to a vote.

Possible tax increases

The six revenue-producing ideas currently being considered include some tax increases. One is a quarter-cent sales tax that would generate $2 million a year. Another is an increase in the property tax. Each 10-cent increase would produce $345,000 a year. A use tax on items purchased out of state would bring in an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

The other revenue-generating ideas are fee increases. A 5 percent increase in user fees would bring in $35,000 a year. A 5 percent increase in permit fees would add $55,000 a year. A new storm-water user fee of $1.50 a month would bring in $350,000 a year.

All of the tax and fee increases together would generate about $3.1 million a year. More money could be raised by bigger property-tax increases, but it's unlikely voters would be inclined to approve them. City property taxes could be raised as much as $1 with a simple-majority vote. Anything over that would require two-thirds approval.

Through its budget process, the city has put together all the ingredients for a successful recipe to meet both pressing and long-range city needs. Once the city's review is complete, it will be necessary to educate the public -- and get the public's feedback. That education process has started by giving the public ample access to the spending ideas already being considered.

The wish list can become a reality as long as city officials and taxpayers alike understand the process and appreciate the good that can come from meeting real needs.


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