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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014

PILOT: Move forward

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Sikeston has three alternatives: (1) Adopt a PILOT and capture the profits from the power plant; (2) raise taxes to continue the current level of city services or (3) reduce city services.

That sounds so sterile - "reduce city services." What it really means is going backwards. Let's look at the good old days as they really were.

Fifteen years ago, police officers in this city had to beg civic groups to buy them bullet-proof vests. They were willing to risk their lives for us, but the city leadership would not risk asking for the money to protect their lives.

Fire trucks arrived at fires but couldn't do much because their hoses were so old they leaked beyond the point of effective use.

There was a fire at the Middle School that did much more damage than it might have. We were so short-handed, only three firemen could respond to the call. (You learn these things when you're on the Council but you're then told not to divulge it and cause a panic. It was long enough ago now, that doesn't matter.)

During this time the number of Section 8 housing vouchers in Sikeston mushroomed beyond all reason. And, attracted by free housing, the migration of poor people into Sikeston from surrounding communities accelerated.

This was followed by racial block-busting, initiated by white real estate people in formerly middle-class neighborhoods (Clayton Addition) in which a lot of white homeowners had their home equity wiped out.

Inevitably, this was followed by the arrival of big-time drug dealers and briefly even some gangs.

Law enforcement was under-manned, ill-equipped and demoralized by the knowledge that the community's leadership would not support them. Turnover at DPS was high. Crime went up.

The "white flight" from the central west end picked up speed and more units were converted to Section 8.

The West End of Sikeston was wide open. Word went out that business was good. More drug dealers arrived.

During the years it took for these problems to incubate, the mayor and City Council did little or nothing - said we couldn't afford it.

But it is true. They did live within their means. No one could ever accuse them of raising taxes, no matter what the need.

The problems are just now starting to get turned around.

Our police force is at its full compliment of manpower for the first time in decades. And, under the leadership of Chief Juden, our DPS is finding some success in getting the bad people, who moved here during those days of opportunity, to take their business elsewhere. Crime is down.

Fully funding the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) would help even more. If you want to get rid of drug dealing rats, get rid of their nests and hiding places.

In the last decade, Sikeston lost 10 percent of its white population. No one benefits from that. The seeds of that out-migration were sown over decades of neglect. We cannot afford any more of it.

The choice is really very simple. We either pass the PILOT, raise taxes or go back to the not-so-good old days.

As for the "Do-Nothing Coalition" who oppose a PILOT, along with every other idea that's come along in the past 20 years, perhaps it's time for them to lead, follow or get out of the way.

Josh Bill, Sikeston

Former mayor

P.S.: And by the way, if you think it's the BMU that's protecting you from massive rate hikes, here's a hot flash. From the beginning, BMU has offered funds to the city, but only if they could stick it to Sikeston rate-payers alone. Their most recent offer is $750,000 in the first year. Your City Council has always said, "No."