SIKESTON - Sikeston voters will decide Tuesday if the Home Rule Charter will be amended to establish a payment in lieu of taxes on Board of Municipal Utilities electricity sales.
With the PILOT expected to bring in approximately $1.6 million if approved by voters, the City Council is considering how best to use the funds.
Around $450,000-$500,000 is needed just to maintain the existing level of city services, according to City Manager Doug Friend.
"That's the shortfall in our budget," said Mayor Phil Boyer. "That's what is needed to continue all the services that are being offered right now."
The city's maintenance, insurance and staffing costs are going up as the city acquires additional city buildings like the new fire station and Clinton community building and additional equipment, Friend said, in addition to regular increases in the cost of doing business.
Having a fully-staffed Department of Public Safety for the first time in years has had a major effect on the city's budget, according to Friend.
Budgeted positions remaining vacant in previous years meant additional money for the city that is no longer there, but a stronger police presence in the city is a direct response to citizen requests, noted Councilmember Sue Rogers.
Friend said having officers in the schools through the D.A.R.E. and School Resource Officer programs as well as more officers on the streets as shows of DPS manpower have proven effective in making the city a safer place to live, and the addition of two narcotic detectives has kept the pressure on area drug dealers. And while the Department of Public Safety is showing results, "there's still a lot to do," Friend said.
Friend noted that while city has been able to maintain the merit pay program, which applies to only a few employees, there was no across-the-board cost-of-living pay increase last year.
DPS currently has competitive salaries, Friend said: "We're not training officers for other agencies to come and take away." Without yearly cost-of-living increases, however, it won't take long to fall behind again.
Another major expense to be funded with PILOT money is to get the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority up and running, according to city officials.
The city's consultants have advised as much as $1 million may be needed to start the LCRA, but city officials believe an aggressive program can be initiated with $500,000 in seed money to address demolition and legal expenses associated with clearing properties for redevelopment.
Before the LCRA was approved by voters, the city was spending roughly $50,000 annually clearing properties, but without a LCRA things moved very slowly.
The city's past efforts so far are already paying off, however. Boyer cited as an example the new development of 14 lots at the Indian Hills subdivision. "We hadn't seen any progress, anything done out there, in 15 years," Boyer said. "So what we're doing is working."
Although a list of projects with a total estimated cost of about $15 million was compiled at one time by past councils, city officials have declined to identify a firm list of projects to be funded by PILOT money due to concerns citizens opposing the PILOT entirely based on their opposition to one particular project.
Speaking on his own behalf, Boyer said he believes the city very much needs a jail and new headquarters for the Department of Public Safety.
Councilman Jerry Pullen said for his part, he believes the DPS also needs a new fire station on North Main, and said the reconstruction of Wakefield and associated drainage problems would easily cost $1 million.
Boyer said he would also like to see the "Ts" removed from Ingram so the street's north and south ends meet at Malone, making Ingram a more effective north-south artery for the city. Officials estimated this may cost about $1.2 million.
Extending County Line Road west to meet with Ingram and make it an additional east-west route was also mentioned by officials as a needed project.
Pullen said the airport is in dire need of improvements and maintenance as well. Boyer agreed, and said the improvements could easily cost $500,000 but are important as the airport is often the first thing industry representatives visiting Sikeston see.
Boyer said one idea is for the council to address several of these projects at one time with a $5 million-$6 million bond issue, using some of the PILOT money to satisfy bond payments. "There's a lot of projects that the citizens demand and deserve," he said.
Friend said money from the PILOT could also be used to accelerate projects listed on the city's five-year Capital Improvement Plan such as lighting replacements at the Complex, parks improvements, new soccer fields, field improvements and associated drainage issues, fencing, playground equipment and construction of restrooms and other facilities at city parks.