In my last message, I issued a public invitation to Sikeston residents seeking their participation in a series of round table discussions.
From this dialog it was Council's goal to determine where our voters stood on the issues. Where did they want their tax dollars spent!
More than 150 residents either attended the meetings or responded to our survey. Their message was clear. They are concerned with property maintenance issues, the availability of affordable housing, community redevelopment and continued support of Public Safety operations.
In the weeks following the round table discussions, members of the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center Advisory Council met with the City Council to advise us of SAHEC's expansion needs. Based on current and projected enrollments their existing number of classrooms will be insufficient to serve area students. They anticipate a need for eight additional classrooms and are seeking assistance in obtaining the funds necessary for this expansion.
Now for the tough part, putting together a plan that will deal with all these issues ... a plan that not only addresses today's needs, but those of the future. We need to create the foundation for a better tomorrow, where we will have adequate housing and job opportunities that will entice our children to remain in Sikeston.
In regard to property issues, Sikeston's voters approved the creation of the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority. When fully operational, the LCRA will be able to acquire vacant, dilapidated and condemned residential and commercial properties within the City, demolish the buildings, and prepare the lots for development. By working with private developers affordable homes can replace condemned buildings. Older commercial districts can be revitalized by the removal of deteriorating, vacant buildings, and their subsequent redevelopment. These actions coupled with aggressive code enforcement and prosecution of offenders can save our neighborhoods. It is estimated that a successful LCRA program will, initially, require $500,000 per year.
If you have been keeping abreast of local broadcast media you are aware of the overwhelming shortage of manpower and funding for police operations in the three-state area. Competitive salaries and benefits are the key to retaining the police and fire professionals needed to keep our community safe and criminal activity in check. From our survey results we know residents want to: 1) continue Community Oriented Policing; 2) keep Resource Officers in our local schools; and 3) expand the Neighborhood Watch Program. To meet these demands, it is estimated the City will need additional funding of $500,000 per year.
Education is the key to a better future, and SAHEC is now serving an even larger portion of our population. SAHEC provides both a traditional classroom curriculum and specific job-skills training. Major employers throughout our region have partnered with SAHEC to develop training programs that not only benefit our existing industries but also make our workforce more attractive to companies seeking to expand or relocate to this area. SAHEC officials tell us it will take approximately $1.2 million to meet their future classroom demands.
Without a doubt, we have the programming to carry out our citizen's priorities. What we don't have is an adequate amount of funding. As you may recall, municipal services have already been reduced in an effort to balance the City's budget. To address the future needs and priorities of the community, a new revenue stream is needed.
In our quest to identify an equitable means of generating the monies needed to fulfill our citizen's priorities, Council is proposing a 1 cent general sales tax. The existing 1/4 cent SAHEC Capital Improvement Sales Tax will be removed in September 2004, resulting in net difference of a 3/4 cent sales tax. Residents of Sikeston will further benefit from a proposed reduction in property tax rates, if this revenue measure is approved by the voters on Feb. 3, 2004.
Our proposed revenue initiative will generate approximately $2.2 million dollars, while the rollback in Sikeston's property tax rates will reduce this amount by $300,000. The overall affect of the two measures will generate $1.9 million that will be used to fund LCRA activities, maintain staffing levels and programs within Public Safety, provide funding for a SAHEC expansion, and maintain existing service levels in parks, streets and administrative services. The Feb. 3 revenue proposal carries a 10-year sunset clause.
In closing, I sincerely believe Sikeston is at a turning point in its development. The decisions we make in the coming year will determine if Sikeston becomes another Springfield or another Cairo. I ask each and every one of you to become fully versed on this very important issue.
The Council and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
I'm Sikeston Proud!