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Council won't support county tax

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

SIKESTON -- Sikeston city officials have decided they will not support Scott County's attempt to make the countywide half-cent law enforcement sales tax permanent.

Council members voted unanimously during their special meeting Monday morning to endorse Sikeston Department of Public Safety Director Drew Juden's position on the proposed tax.

City Council members agreed with Juden's assertion that the county's proposed sales tax would have little benefit for the city's citizens and would make it difficult, if not impossible, to get a citywide half-cent law enforcement tax approved. "We've got to have a strong Public Safety in Sikeston," Mayor Mike Marshall said.

"I think it's important that we work to defeat this tax," Juden said, "and then put ours on the ballot."

Council members also expressed concerns about how revenue from the county's proposed tax would be spent -- such as on roads in the northern part of the county -- and that the tax has no Sunset clause included.

Juden said he has spent a lot of time looking over the proposed countywide sales tax. The city should try to "capture those revenue dollars and use them in the city," he said.

He said Sikeston's citizens have already paid the county's half-cent law enforcement sales tax for nearly eight years. Scott County voters approved the eight-year tax in April 2000 to fund the construction of a new county jail and to cover the costs of housing the county's prisoners in other jails.

Juden said he has a problem backing a plan to continue sending the city's money to the county when their goals were accomplished while the city's law enforcement has needs. "I'm greatly concerned about the ability to continue to provide services at the level they are being provided now," he said.

DPS staffing is down due to officers serving in Iraq, four injuries and unfilled positions, according to Juden, resulting in the department being short nearly an entire shift and having to pay overtime.

He said staffing is especially important during the summer months: "I don't want to see us go backward."

And DPS is already bearing the cost of mental health transports and paying $30 to board city prisoners in the county jail, Juden said.

Scott County Sheriff's Department employees have received cost-of-living raises DPS can't afford to give its officers, he said, and the county has a new jail while DPS is in an old building that is close to falling down. The city is going to need to build a jail of its own eventually, he added.

"I think it's time we make some improvements here," Juden said. "This is not about us against them, it's about what is right for this community." He said it is simply a matter of "competing interests."

He estimated a half-cent city tax would bring in $1.4 million per year.

In February 2004, Sikeston voters approved a 1-cent general sales tax for 10 years to help fund DPS, the Southeast Missouri State University-Sikeston expansion and Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority efforts.

This tax went into effect as the 1/4 cent capital improvement tax and 1/4 cent tax for the SAHEC facility dropped off due to Sunset clauses, resulting in a net increase of only 1/2 cent in sales tax. City personal property taxes were also rolled back.

Revenue projections for this city tax were based on 4 percent growth, however, while the city has only seen about 1 percent growth, according to City Manager Doug Friend.

Friend said in addition to economic growth not reaching the projected levels, the city's budget has been squeezed by health insurance premium increases, workers compensation insurance increases and higher fuel costs.