Task force may redo tax plan if council gives OK

Saturday, August 17, 2002

At least one member of the Citizens Finance Task Force, a group assembled by the Cape Girardeau City Council to inspect and recommend solutions for the city's financial situation, says he is dissatisfied with the lack of specifics in the task force's recent recommendation.

Melvin Gateley, task force co-chair and former councilman, said the task force was pushed to complete its report by Tuesday so the council would have it in time to consider several proposed tax increases for the November ballot.

Gateley said he will ask the city council at its Monday meeting to authorize the task force to continue meeting to develop its recommendations and provide details of spending plans.

Gateley said he wasn't comfortable with the portion of the task force recommendation that would require the most new revenue: $2.4 million for additional personnel, salary increases and equipment replacement.

On Tuesday, the task force, using the city's priority lists that Gateley said were changed four times in the few weeks the task force met, also recommended the funding of four major projects costing $15.3 million:

A new fire station for $1.8 million

Police station addition and renovations for $4.9 million

A family aquatic center for $5 million

Stormwater projects for $3.6 million

In its proposal, the task force recommended paying for the projects and the unspecified personnel and equipment costs with a package of five tax and fee increases, including an increase in the city's cigarette tax.

After the task force made its recommendations, it learned that a state statute prohibits cities from raising cigarette taxes. City manager Michael Miller said Friday the city got the idea for increasing the cigarette tax from a list of revenue-producing possibilities that had been provided by the Missouri Municipal League.

In addition, the task force underestimated revenue from a proposed use tax, which is a sales tax on out-of-state purchases. The Missouri Municipal League and Missouri Department of Revenue suggested a figure about $600,000 higher than the task force.

"Since so many erroneous things have popped up, I consider it to be important for us to continue our work on behalf of the citizens," Gateley said.

Task force member Stan Wicks agreed.

"It seems like if we didn't have all the information, maybe we should get back together and correct that information," he said.

Council member Hugh White said Friday he didn't see any problem with the task force meeting again.

"I haven't spoken to Melvin, but if they think they need to take an additional look, I think that would be entirely appropriate," he said.

Gateley was on the city council when the Transportation Trust Fund, which required voter approval of a half-cent sales tax, was approved and, five years later, approved again. He has often said the success of that program has been the specific list of prioritized street projects.

He said the same should be done on the city's personnel and equipment needs.

Councilman White said he was also in favor of more specifics.

Nancy Jernigan, the other co-chair of the task force, said the city provided a long list of the city's equipment, vehicles and their life expectancy. She said the majority of the equipment is either outdated or about to reach the limit of its productive use.

"Melvin and I asked for a lot of information," Jernigan said. "We had it there, and not all of it was part of the report. ... I think people have every right to that list, and I hope people ask for it."

Editor R. Joe Sullivan contributed to this report.

bmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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