If you look at the numbers, the city of Sikeston has made significant strides toward addressing two issues that have erupted in public concern - the much-anticipated noise ordinance and the extremely-anticipated move to address condemned and deteriorating properties. Check the city court docket each week and the numbers are clear for everyone to see. The question is - are we doing enough and are we doing it fast enough?
There is universal agreement that our community has too many properties that simply should be bulldozed. That removes eyesores that blight neighborhoods and it also removes havens for criminal activity. But there is less than universal agreement on how we should finance these properties because the cost of removal doesn't come cheaply.
Voters resoundingly rejected a payment in lieu of taxes on the utility system that would have earmarked some of the proceeds for property removal. In some ways, city officials misread the public's reluctance to bear any additional costs for virtually any projects right now. But regardless of the public resistance for more tax dollars, our city has simply got to address the issue of blighted neighborhoods.
Our community has applied for grants that will hopefully help in some of the removal. But even the most optimistic observer realizes that these funds will not be enough. So exactly where does that put us at this point.
Well, here's my read. I'll reluctantly accept the city's position that we have made all of the cuts to the current budget and no funds are available for property removal. I could take issue with a few dollars here and there. But by and large, our city budget is tight and there is little wiggle room.
For starters, we need to look at the private sector for relief. Those people with means should consider purchasing some of these dilapidated properties, removing them from our community and accept the fact that they will not receive a return on their investment. I know of some people of means who have already undertaken this approach. But that's not going to solve our problems either.
It seems to me that what is sorely needed to address our problems is the very same issue facing all levels of government - more money. Had we enough funds we could virtually clean-up these neighborhoods overnight. But that is not going to happen. So we must think creatively and arrive at some mechanism that will fund property removal. Maybe it's time to talk about a tax that would be earmarked solely for that purpose.
We must not and cannot shortchange law enforcement in this discussion. That much is certain. In fact, the argument could easily be made that law enforcement needs and deserves additional funding. But each and every need comes with a pricetag. Are we willing to pay that price?
I have a strong notion that one of the problems is we, as a community, don't fully realize or appreciate the level of our problems. It seems to me that many in the public understand that we must take some sort of action but they fail to fully appreciate the dire nature of the current situation. I will not use the word "crisis" but it may well apply.
Nothing will happen until more voices are raised and more solutions explored. Until then our biggest battle is against time. And on that front, time - as you know - waits for no one.