The upcoming vote in Sikeston on a one-cent sales tax increase is over three weeks away and sides are beginning to close on whether the issue is needed here and, if so, just how the money will be spent. And, like it or not, the issue is becoming personal. At stake are millions of dollars in new revenue for the city to address some long-neglected and fundamental needs of our community. But also at stake is a large sum of revenue that will be placed in a reserve fund to provide "impact projects" somewhere down the road. Both sides in the debate are making strong cases. And with this much money up for grabs, the debate should be loud and long and informative.
Past mistakes aside, some of this money is needed urgently. But much of the dialogue thusfar has been on past mistakes, broken promises and a general attitude that government at any level can often not be fully trusted to wisely and judiciously spend taxpayer money. Our community is not alone in this underlying level of mistrust. But somehow, somewhere, we must get beyond the past and focus on the future.
I want funding for the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority to remove eyesores that have created a cancer in our community. But, like many others, I don't want taxpayers to bail out slumlords who have allowed their properties to fall in massive disrepair. Unfortunately, in some but not all cases, that may be our only course of action.
I want fair and equitable salaries for all city employees especially the firemen and policemen who risk their lives to make our community safe. But I also want competitive salaries for all city employees to help assure we have the best possible people in the best possible positions.
I want our community to share in the costs of expanding the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center because we are a major beneficiary of that fine facility. But I also expect Southeast Missouri State University to share in those costs as well.
Now these three simple issues all demand money. And, by my definition, quite a bit of money. But the one-cent sales tax increase - even with the capital improvement and SAHEC taxes and property taxes removed - should still generate more than the above three issues require.
That leaves a good bit of change to help put our city in a position to address future needs. The question then is do we want to approve these substantial extra dollars at this time without knowing exactly for what purpose they might be used? The outcome of the February vote, I believe, will hinge on this question.
I believe the city is concerned with providing a "wish list" of future projects because each provides a potential target for opposition. And they may well be right. But let's all dream together and discuss what these "impact projects" may entail and what they cost and when we might get to work making them a reality.
It's time for leadership. It's time for this community to decide what direction we'll take - not just tomorrow but far into the future. In my opinion, until we address the three issues that are the foundation of this election, our future will be certain. And it won't be the future most of us want.