In late 2003, the City Council along with a large group of concerned citizens met to identify problems within our community. Of primary concern was the deterioration of our neighborhoods and the ever-growing number of vacant/abandoned buildings - both commercial and residential. This, coupled with insufficient funding to sustain municipal services, presented a very big obstacle to Sikeston's future growth and prosperity.
All remedial action centered on one key element - funding. Without a new revenue stream, Sikeston would be unable to attack the problems at hand. Out of our discussions came a solution - the creation of a 1-cent general sales tax. Upon its passage by local voters, the new monies would supplant the existing 1/4 cent Capital Improvement Sales Tax and 1/4 cent SAHEC Capital Improvement Sales Tax, allowing both to sunset. Additionally, Council pledged to reduce property tax rates by 21 percent. With its passage in February 2004, a plan for funding was in place and the city was ready to embark on one of the most aggressive programs ever undertaken.
Today, just 150 days after the approval of this funding measure, Sikeston's City Council has adopted legislation to strengthen city code prohibiting ownership of multiple derelict or junked vehicles, accumulations of junk, and trash and tall weeds and grass on private property. Sikeston's code enforcement officers were sent to every neighborhood in this city - the result - more than 91 derelict vehicles have been removed from Sikeston in the past 60 days.
Landowners, as well as tenants, are being prosecuted for violations of the city's property maintenance code. More than 200 Municipal Court cases have been filed against residents who fail to take responsibility for the condition and appearance of their property. These efforts are working. We are seeing homes and outbuildings painted or siding installed. Yards are being cleaned and maintained. The appearance and conditions within our neighborhoods are improving!
Our commercial property owners and developers have joined our efforts, making significant headway in removing vacant buildings in our commercial districts. Gone are the vacant office/commercial buildings along the 200 block of East Malone. Developers are in the process of removing the vacant building at the corner of North New Madrid and Malone Avenue (former Copper Still property). The LCRA is awaiting word from the state on $150,000 in grant funding that will be used to remove the former First Baptist Church building on North Kingshighway. Plans are in place to remove the former Coca-Cola building on Front Street. Likewise, plans are being made for the removal of the former MoDOT facility at the corner of Main and Malone and the construction of a retail development at that location.
Local artists have created murals on the boarded storefronts along West Malone Avenue (across the street from the Depot), and commercial property owners throughout the city are cleaning, painting and landscaping.
Meanwhile, city staff has been hard at work developing the FY-05 budget. Two public hearings were conducted to obtain citizen input prior to the budget's approval on June 15. In response to citizens' concerns, funding was provided to increase staffing within the Department of Public Safety. DPS will be adding three public safety officers in addition to a sergeant being added to both Fire Division and the Criminal Investigations Unit.
We have retained funding for the city's three school resource officers and created the position of dispatch supervisor. In an effort to attract and retain qualified workers, all employees, except department heads, will receive a 6 percent cost of living increase.
Elsewhere in the budget, $500,000 has been designated to fund Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority activities. An additional $25,000 will be used for municipal demolition efforts. $210,000 will be used to fund economic development activities and $63,000 has been budgeted for the privatization of animal control services. $40,000 will be transferred to the Park Division to supplement its operations, while $21,000 has been budgeted to pay jail costs associated with increased enforcement of municipal ordinances.
In regard to the city's transportation program, $600,000 has been budgeted for street and drainage improvements. An additional $78,00 will be appropriated to purchase street construction materials and chemicals, i.e. asphalt for pothole patching, and salt for snow/ice removal.
Approved as part of the FY-05 budget was the city's Capital Improvement Plan. $250,000 has been appropriated for the planned replacement of Public Safety vehicles. Fire division will receive $160,000 to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). $140,000 has been designated for the replacement of lighting and fencing at the Little League ball fields in the Recreation Complex. $84,000 has been earmarked for parking improvements in the Recreational Complex and VFW Ballpark. $100,000 will be used to purchase and implement an integrated computer system for Code Enforcement activities (rental property ordinance and property maintenance enforcement).
Among the many topics discussed during our 2003 citizen meetings was that of continued support for higher education. The Sikeston Area Higher Education Center, located in the Sikeston Business, Education and Technology Park, has exceeded enrollment projections. Existing classroom facilities are no longer sufficient to serve the vocational and higher education needs of our area's students.
Realizing the importance of education to Sikeston's growth and economic development, the Sikeston City Council agreed to work with Southeast Missouri State University to fund an expansion of the facility.
By late June, schematic drawings and cost estimates for a 27,000-square-foot addition to SAHEC were released. Four new classrooms, a computer lab and child development center will be added to the north end of the existing facility for an estimated cost of $2.18 million. The city has formalized its funding agreement with Southeast Missouri State University, enabling construction to begin. Engineers are targeting December 2005 for its completion.
On a related issue, the city has continued its dialog with the Missouri Department of Transportation for the construction of a stoplight at the intersection of Highway 61 North and Route HH. The City Council has authorized utilization of our FAU allocation to assist in the funding of the signals. It is our understanding that MoDOT will provide additional funding and have the signals installed and functioning by June 2005.
Speaking on behalf of the City Council and staff, the past 150 days have been exceedingly busy. We have taken great strides in our effort to improve the quality of life for our residents. The council remains dedicated to the community goals identified during Sikeston's Round Table discussions. We will continue to support LCRA operations and the strict enforcement of property maintenance codes throughout the city. Law enforcement will remain a priority for municipal funding, as we continue prosecution of individuals who live and operate outside the law.
With our accomplishments of the past five months, we have taken the first step toward our goal of making Sikeston a better place in which to live and work!
I'm Sikeston Proud!