Task force pushes for solid information

Cape Girardeau's Citizens Finance Task Force is pressing officials at city hall for information. Before the task force can make a competent recommendation regarding the need for any tax increases, it will need this specific information.

What's puzzling is why city officials have given the task force so little of what it needs and so much that doesn't address many of the obvious questions.

When the task force met again earlier this month, it was presented with hundreds of pages of documents. But the quantity of paperwork doesn't appear to match the task force's requirements for understanding the city's financial situation.

The task force needs to be clear about its recommendations so they can be grasped by voters who will be asked to approve tax increases -- which currently appear to be an inevitable likelihood.

For example, the city's finance director presented a grim deficit-spending forecast. John Richbourg said in the next six years the city will be operating $1.8 million in the red if city revenue -- mostly from sales taxes -- doesn't pick up and if spending doesn't increase.

But then he told the task force that those projections were based on higher revenue estimates than the city actually has experienced over the last three years. In other words, the task force was being given information based on an outdated projection that is several years old.

As common sense would dictate, the task force asked Richbourg to recalculate the projections based on actual growth in city revenue. The finance director told task force members the result will be "a number that's unbelievable." That's the whole point. The task force needs the most current and most reliable financial data before it makes any recommendations.

With the likelihood that the task force will ultimately suggest tax increases, the city will need supporting facts and figures to make its case to voters. Few voters would be inspired to support any tax plan that relies on outdated information.

The task force continues to push for useful information in other areas too, such as specific salary plans and equipment needs.

In a discussion regarding the task force's earlier recommendation to seek voter approval of a $5 million aquatic park, some members of the task force wisely suggested that such a proposal might best be kept separate from any tax package to address the city's current financial crisis.

It was suggested that some voters might vote against the whole plan if it included the aquatic park. There are good reasons to be considering an aquatic park, despite the city's financial straits. But getting voters to support such a proposal won't be easy.

The task force appears to be taking hold of some thorny issues, and it is asking for the kind of information any business owner would seek when making multimillion-dollar decisions. Let's hope the task force continues to push for information taxpayers will be asking about when proposed tax increases appear on the ballot.