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Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Sikeston future is discussed

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Mike Marshall, pictured here, addresses citizens Tuesday morning at the Clinton Building during a breakfast Tuesday.
SIKESTON - Sikeston is at a crossroads, according to Mayor Mike Marshall.

Nearly 100 concerned citizens met for breakfast at the Clinton Building Tuesday morning with city and SAHEC officials to discuss which direction the city will take.

Marshall said Sikeston can "be another Springfield or another Cairo." To draw new industry, however, citizens need to clean this town up, he said, which is the goal for both the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority and the Department of Public Safety.

"There's a certain element we want to run out of town," Marshall said.

Marshall said he hopes to build the community into one fine enough that our children will want to live here. "I don't want to fly to St. Louis or San Diego to see my grandkids," he said.

City Manager Doug Friend said the meeting is part of the process which included receiving input from citizens from town hall meetings and a priorities survey which identified public safety, redevelopment and economic development, and education opportunities as being areas to focus on.

A 1-cent sales tax, if approved by voters, will enable the city to spend money where citizens have indicated they want money spent: on the Department of Public Safety, the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority and the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center.

Drew Juden, DPS director, said instead of discussing the department's needs during his presentation, he was going to "turn the tables" on those gathered, asking: "What do you want from us? What do you want us to be?"

Juden followed his remarks with a powerpoint presentation consisting of a series of photographs illustrating DPS activities over the last year.

Pictures of the Three Stooges in police and fire fighting gear ended the presentation as an illustration of what the department could turn into without adequate funding.

"It's important to keep our officers well paid," Juden said, noting that Sikeston is no longer a "training ground" for other departments.

"I think we have an opportunity here and I think we need to take advantage of it," he said.

Mike Bohannon, LCRA Board chairman, provided an update on LCRA activities noting that the LCRA was voted in by a 7-1 majority.

An initial study found 605 vacant homes in Sikeston with roughly half of those "in various states of deterioration," Bohannon said.

The LCRA has torn down about 10 structures and has contracts out for another 10.

Bohannon also advised those gathered of a letter sent recently to the owners of 72 vacant condemned structures in the city advising owners they must bring their property up to code or face condemnation proceedings and a tax lien to cover the LCRA's costs for condemnation and demolition. Bohannon estimated 90 to 95 percent of these were former Section 8 houses.

The LCRA has a game plan, he said, with the first step being to take possession of and to demolish dilapidated housing.

"I don't see how we have a choice," Bohannon said. "We've got to clean the community up."

Step two is to redevelop with single-family, owner-occupied housing.

The third part of the plan is neighborhood preservation which will be largely accomplished by working with code enforcement to maintain standards.

Bohannon estimated the cost of demolition and clean up for lots at $10,000 each. Another $50,000 will be needed for redevelopment and $120,000 for neighborhood preservation.

About $30,000 per year will be needed by the LCRA just for property maintenance such as mowing city-owned vacant lots.

All in all, Bohannon said the LCRA needs a budget of about $800,000. "We're not going to stop - we're going to do what we can," he said. "We're going to save our community."

Judy Buck, SAHEC director, said the center "has been a star in the community and we're continuing to shine."

SAHEC enrollment has grown from 706 students in the summer of '98 to 1,700 by the spring '03, she said. It includes students not only from Sikeston, but also the surrounding area and even outside this area who can't get their class elsewhere.

"We have the best that can be had," said Bob Bohannon, a department head for SEMO and a SAHEC Advisory Board member. "We're asking for eight classrooms."

He estimated the cost for the expansion would run between $1 million and $1.25 million.

Bohannon said SAHEC was the best thing to happen to the community in the last 20 years and is one of the city's three top facilities along with the power plant and hospital.

Friend answered a question regarding why a single tax is being asked for instead of separate taxes by explaining that there are statutory limits on ballot questions and that, unlike counties, cities are not allowed public safety taxes.

"It is about the only mechanism available to attack all three issues," Friend said, adding that a shopping list of taxes on a ballot undermines the efforts of each of them.

Voters will need to have faith in their Council and hold them and staff accountable, he said.

After the property tax rollback of $300,000 is subtracted, city officials estimated the sales tax would bring in $1.8 million. A presentation shortly after the first of the year will have a specific breakdown of how the Council intends to spend the money.

Marshall said the city's needs will change in time, which is another reason a general revenue tax is appropriate.