(photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
SIKESTON - Public hearings were conducted during the regular Sikeston City Council meeting Monday on the designation of wards and the Fiscal Year 2003 budget, but comments from the public soon turned toward the recent flooding problems.
The first public hearing gathered public input on the designation of wards before the council selected a few for presentation to the public "as opposed to a room full of maps," according to City Manager Doug Friend.
The goal, Friend said, was to come up with wards that provided equal representations of the population, maintain existing voting precincts and that use recognizable geographic barriers.
City staff presented options developed over the last few weeks by council members Michael Harris, Michael Marshall and Sue Rogers.
Marshall said using major streets to divide wards would make it easier for people to know which ward they live in and who is representing them. He noted that after wards were implemented in Cape Girardeau, "people didn't know what ward they were in or who their ward representative was."
Harry Sharp restated his belief that the mandate preserving the "commonality of interest" among residents in wards is more important than preserving voting precincts or using major streets as division lines.
Friend said changing where a person has been voting for 30 years is a "monumental" change and could confuse many people.
Following the hearing, council voted to go forward with four proposals formerly titled Harris No. 5, Harris/Marshall Proposed Wards, Harris No. 3 and a modified Harris No. 6. The proposals will be presented to the public as city options 1, 2, 3 and 4 for further comment and input.
City officials hope to have the ward boundaries ready for a final vote at the regular July meeting, well before the Charter-mandated deadline of Oct. 1.
The second public hearing was held to gather public input on the city's Fiscal Year 2003 budget. Staff will seek final approval for the budget at the July 1 meeting.
Friend said the goal is to maintain current funding levels for the city's maintenance and operations - "a no-growth budget."
Revenues from all sources were projected at $8.7 million and projected expenditures for the city at $9.3 million, according to Friend. Existing fund balances will be used to make up the $600,000 difference.
A fully-staffed Department of Public Safety has resulted in personnel costs much higher than seen in recent years, according to Friend.
Several residents from Pam Street asked if there was any money in the budget to clean out the ditches and alleviate flooding problems in their neighborhood. "We need the ditch cleaned out real bad," said one Pam Street resident.
Friend said when the city last requested bids for such a project, the they only received a single bid of $50,000 which officials believed to be too high. The work had previously been completed for about $15,000.
The city will also need to obtain temporary easements for the project.
While acknowledging that "vegetation will restrict the flow," Friend said the city was unable to find any major obstructions to remove.
Officials referred to a recent meeting of area ditch districts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that indicated with a high river and saturated ground, ultimately a real difference can not be made until the proposed pumps at New Madrid are installed.
Following the budget hearing, bills establishing the budget and staffing and compensation levels for 2003 were read for the first time.