BENTON -- Funding woes have prompted local senior citizen program officials to examine placing a sales tax increase issue before Scott County voters in the April election.
During the regular Scott County Commission meeting Tuesday, Lana Johnson, nutrition project director for Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, asked the commissioners to consider imposing a .25-cent sales tax increase issue on the April 4 ballot.
AAA, an advocate for senior citizens, serves the senior centers in the 18-
county service area in Southeast Missouri.
The general revenue fund tax could generate $750,000 for Scott County senior citizen services including Sikeston Senior Center, Chaffee Senior Center, Scott County Transit, Scott County Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Foster Grandparents in Sikeston and others.
"So for every $4 that you buy something (in the county), one penny would go to the seniors," Johnson said.
According to Johnson, AAA has used its reserves and has taken drastic measures to deal with the budget issues. It's even closed five area centers, she said. "There will be others," Johnson said. "It's just a matter of time."
This year Scott County's senior centers are expected to lose the following in funding: $18,347 at its Chaffee center; $11,627 at its Scott City center (Scott City receives funding from Cape County); and $79,177 at the Sikeston center. The Scott County RSVP and transit programs have also faced funding restraints, Johnson said.
In 1996, Mississippi County voters approved a sales tax similar to what Johnson proposed Tuesday. The revenue went to the county's Charleston Senior Center, East Prairie Senior Center, transportation system and RSVP, she said.
"That made all the difference in the world. They no longer have to be afraid of their funding getting cut because their local people have provided all the support they need to exist," Johnson said.
Seven of the 18 counties in Southeast Missouri have property taxes that benefit their senior centers, Johnson said.
Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel said he knows a property tax dedicated to senior citizen programs could be proposed, but he isn't sure if a sales tax proposal would be legal.
State Rep. Peter Myers, who was present to show support to Johnson and the agencies she represented, said he thought Mississippi County was able to put the issue on the ballot without any special legislation.
Myers compared the sales tax proposed by Johnson to that of New Madrid County's half-cent sales tax, which was passed in November.
"They (New Madrid County) did it without state legislation and put it on with the sales tax. They earmarked it and put the rest into a general revenue fund," Myers said.
However, Myers told Priggel he would research the issue and get back to him. Johnson also inquired about the cost to put the issue on the ballot. "Everybody who has an issue on the April ballot shares in the cost of that election," Scott County Clerk Rita Milam said.
Milam didn't have a figure for Johnson, but said she would get an estimate and get back to her.
"I don't see any of these groups having the dollars to do that," Johnson said, adding they would probably pay with donations or reserve funds -- if possible.
Priggel noted about eight to 10 years ago, residents voted down a property tax proposal dedicated to senior citizen services. He wondered why it failed the first time and what is being done to make this proposal different. Agency representatives said the difference this time is they're asking for a sales tax issue instead of property tax.
Second District Commissioner Jamie Burger suggested Johnson find out the legality of placing a sales tax issue on the ballot. In the meantime, Johnson said she would also check about funding for the cost to place the issue on the ballot.
"Then we'll remeet," Burger said.
The deadline to place the issue on the April ballot is Jan. 24. If placed, it would require a simple majority vote to pass.
In other business Tuesday, Scott County Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Burton and the commissioners discussed the Region E State Emergency Management Agency meeting they attended Dec. 29 in Sikeston.
Burton expressed his disappointment about the lack of new information and questions remaining unanswered by state officials.
"Everybody tells us what's going to happen, but no one is saying how we're going to be rescued," Burton said.
First District Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn agreed with Burton, but commended Missouri National Guard Adj. Gen. King Sidwell for doing an excellent job of bringing ideas together.
"The National Guard is going to be our only salvation (in an emergency)," Ziegenhorn said.
Burton said a command in control is still needed since Scott County's emergency plan doesn't match other agencies' plans in the area. Regardless, the first response is up to the county, he said.
"There are four levels of response, and level one is the citizens of Scott County," Burton said.
One of Burton's goals this year is to convince Scott County citizens they've got to take care of themselves for 96 hours at least -- or longer -- should a disaster like a major earthquake occur, he said.
"Convincing people to do that is a major task. It's something we've talked about for umpteenth million years and it's never happened," Burton said. "But it's going to happen."
Priggel noted 1,300 to 1,400 injuries and over 600 deaths are expected in rural Southeast Missouri should a 7.7 earthquake occur after 2 a.m. (the worst time to have one because it's when people are least prepared).
That's why Burton said he's been pushing the CERT (County Emergency Response Team) training.
Burger pointed out the county purchasing satellite phones was a major move forward in emergency preparedness.
Burton said he's completing an emergency preparedness contact list to distribute to officials.
"It might not ever happen," Priggel said about an earthquake. "But if it does, it will be the biggest event that will happen in our entire lifetime."
Burton noted all the communities in Scott County with the exception of the City of Sikeston, which has its own, have adopted the county's emergency management plan.
Also on Tuesday, Burger noted last year the county spent $3,200 in signs, and that doesn't include labor costs.
Burger advised Harlan Duncan of the county's transportation department, to check all railroad crossings to make sure the mandated signs warning motorists a railroad crossing is 50 feet ahead are present. Once a count of needed signs is made, replacements should be ordered, Burger said.
Duncan noted the stop sign at county roads 505 and 506 has been put up following a weekend accident at the intersection north of Blodgett. Also, he said, signs were fixed in the Perkins community.