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City Beat: $348M budget OK’d amid sales tax drops

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After five budget hearings over several weeks and the adoption of two amendments, Springfield City Council on June 12 passed a $348 million fiscal 2018 budget.

The budget includes an $83 million general fund, the city’s primary operating fund that includes Police and Fire operations.

Officials said prior-year commitments that consumed most of the projected revenue made balancing a budget challenging.

Those prior-year commitments included the addition of 21 police officers, said City Manager Greg Burris. The addition was possible with the help of three federal grants, but now the city is trying to determine what money will continue to fund the officers’ salaries.

“As the grant money rolls out, you have to come up with the money somewhere else,” Burris said after the council meeting.

“The city must absorb those costs.”

Mayor Ken McClure cited additional challenges in the city’s sales tax shortages.

The new budget total represents a 0.9 percent increase from fiscal 2017, said Finance Director David Holtmann. Officials lowered projected fiscal 2018 sales tax revenues by 1.3 percent to $44.8 million, compared with the $45.4 million forecast in the fiscal 2017 budget.

McClure noted sales tax revenue is slipping as consumers move toward online purchases, though he still expressed his confidence in the budget.

“The budget is sound,” McClure said. “Given the resources that we have, we have taken a good, sound approach. I commend the staff for working through that on difficult issues.”

The budget passed 8-1 with Councilwoman Kristi Fulnecky in opposition.

“For $348 million, I really feel like this is a people’s budget,” Fulnecky said. “We publicly only talked about it for three hours at the end of May and I really feel that we should be involved earlier in the process just to get more information.”

Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson countered by saying Fulnecky had been absent from two budget meetings. McClure added city charter requires the city manager to provide a proposed budget by May 1 each year, and council then has 60 days to review and act on the proposal.

Tourist attraction
Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Tracy Kimberlin presented a bill before council to renew a contract with the city for a $3.6 million budget, part of which would fund marketing to promote travel and tourism in Springfield.

Projected marketing expenses are $1.9 million for advertisement production, billboards, and print, radio and TV advertising. The rest of the budget, according to council documents, goes toward payroll, administrative allowances and capital expenses.

Kimberlin said Springfield typically records 1.3-1.5 million overnight visitors a year, plus the daytime visits.

“There’s really no good way to measure day-trippers,” Kimberlin acknowledged.

While he said Fantastic Caverns, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Springfield Cardinals and Missouri Sports Hall of Fame are strong attractions, he expects the planned reopening of the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium in September to be a game-changer.

“Bass Pro is obviously the biggest of the bunch,” Kimberlin said. “That’s the one that would really cause people to get in their cars and come here.”

He also expects the attraction to pull in typical visitors to Branson.

“Springfield and Branson are viewed by many as being the same, general destination,” Kimberlin said. “Springfield will now become more of a must-see stop, if your initial plans were simply to go to Branson. It substantially increases the cross traffic.”

Kimberlin added that tourism in Springfield could help the sales tax revenue issues.

“I think the sales tax revenues would be down more than it is if we hadn’t had had record years (in visitors) the past three years,” he said.

The proposed budget is scheduled for a vote at the next council meeting, June 26.

Kearney corridor
A resolution accepting the Kearney Street corridor study passed unanimously.

The study, commissioned in November for $100,000, identified redevelopment opportunities in the economically depressed area, such as a food hall, food truck court, increased visibility of Doling Park and new retail, for instance, discount stores Ross Dress for Less or T.J. Maxx.

St. Louis-based Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets Inc. reviewed 5.5 miles of Kearney Street between Kansas Expressway and Glenstone Avenue.

“Staff would like to move forward with preparing a redevelopment plan and then use the study as the blight study for the Kearney Street corridor area,” Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner told council before the vote.

Property owners within the approved district who want to make improvements to their property can apply through the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority for 10 years of tax abatement.

Councilwoman Ferguson added one of the strategies in the report was to take the Route 66 component and make it favorable.

“Cruising is part of it,” Ferguson said. “I’ve always said that if you give people a reason to come to Kearney Street, they will.”

Stop and go developments
Council voted down plans for new housing for Missouri State University fraternity and sorority members.

Developer Lantz Housing LLC proposed two three-story buildings to house 66 students in 40 units along the south side of East Elm Street between John Q. Hammons Parkway and South Florence Avenue.

In the 5-4 decision against the $3.7 million redevelopment plan, councilmembers Ferguson, Fulnecky, Mike Schilling, Craig Fishel and Craig Hosmer were opposed. The developer asked council to declare the area blighted in pursuit of tax abatements on property improvements.

“I don’t think it’s in the public interest that we use tax money to support a kind of closed housing situation,” Schilling said.

According to council documents, the developer then would have utilized conventional financing to finance the project.

Lantz Housing, co-owned by Roger and Shelley Lantz, has completed similar projects for the development and renovation of MSU’s fraternity and sorority houses, including the $2.2 million Gamma Phi Beta house.

In another development proposal, council approved plans for the Robberson Avenue Multi-Family Redevelopment Area, paving the way for 72 student housing units across three buildings.

But first, the $8 million redevelopment plan along South Robberson Avenue, between Madison and Grand streets, calls for the demolition of existing buildings on 10 parcels at 814-902 S. Robberson Ave. The area already had been declared blighted.

Representatives for developer Burning Tree LLC have said project completion is expected by fall 2018.

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