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Public turnout rare at budget hearings

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The city of Sikeston will hold a public hearing this Wednesday on the proposed city budget for the coming fiscal year. To say that these annual hearings are sparsely attended would be an understatement. The public may have strong feelings on how our tax dollars should be spent but when it comes to voicing those opinions, few rarely do.

Sikeston, like every other form of government, will never have sufficient revenues to accomplish all of the goals and projects we would like. Were there an endless source of revenue, we could fund every pet project and every large project as well. That is not the case.

I would hope that city officials find the resources to provide a pay increase for our Public Safety officers and to fund every dime that is requested by the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority. And speaking of LCRA, I would hope that public body continues to recognize the importance they hold to our future and double their efforts to remove those problem properties that plague our city.

We can talk economic development until we are blue in the face but until we can promise a safe community free of street corner thugs and until we can promise an elimination of the filthy properties that abound, economic development will occur only despite ourselves.

A budget is all about priorities. It's less about a vision. Now I recognize that my priorities may differ from yours. But operating on limited resources, governments at all levels must identify priorities and address those first with the funds available. When it becomes impossible to address those priorities with the available funds, then you go to the voters and ask for more funds. Voters will respond if indeed we have spent our money wisely.

Maybe we need to tell the residents of Sikeston that it's time for some belt-

tightening. Maybe our wish list should give way to a list of necessity. Adequately paid Public Safety officers to me is a necessity.

I've worked with a lot of budgets through the years as a member of the private sector. It's not radically different than the public sector, I suppose. One first step in that process is to question why we do what we do. Now that may sound simplistic. But it works. Just because we have done something one way in city government doesn't necessarily mean that forms our starting point for yet another year.

And finally, there's been ample discussion -- primarily under the table -- about a new municipal complex that could include a new Public Safety headquarters, city hall, jail holding facility, city court, etc. In fact, ground is currently being cleared in downtown Sikeston on the location that someday may house this mega-complex.

I favor asking voters to approve this far-reaching plan. I think the future of our community will be well served by a complex that can be a source of pride for current and future residents. And soon, city leaders need to begin discussing plans that allow for citizen input into this proposal. That process hopefully will pave the way for a revitalized Sikeston.

It would be nice to have a good turnout when city leaders outline the new budget. But I doubt that will happen because the mechanics of budgeting are less than exciting. Thus, we leave it to our City Council to ask the tough questions that address priorities for our community. I have faith they will do just that.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen