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City Beat

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by Karen E. Culp

City Council spent most of the June 8 meeting listening to presentations from firefighters and police officers who are seeking an increase in their pension benefits rather than their salaries, as is now proposed in a council bill.

The pension benefit is necessary because "this is a young man's profession," said Mike Peltz, president of the local firefighters' union. Peltz also presented statistics on the life expectancy of the average firefighter and urged council members to consider an earlier retirement age for firefighters.

Police officer Gary Collins said the average police officer's career ends at 49, making an earlier retirement more desirable for them, also.

The firefighters and police presented a proposal to city management they say will not cost the city any more money. Their proposal involves a 1.25 percent pay increase in July and changes to the pension benefit effective in January. The proposal would reduce the number of years a firefighter or police officer must serve before retirement from 28 to 25, and would increase their pension benefit from 70 percent to 75 percent.

The firefighters, police officers and their families and supporters, who had said they would bring 1,000 people to the meeting, filled nearly the entire council chambers, two overflow rooms and the hallway. (For more information on the proposed city salary ordinance and the firefighters' and police offers' concerns, see the article beginning on page 1.)

The council voted 8-to-1 in favor of opening Jefferson Ave. Councilman Russell Rhodes cast the sole dissenting vote.

The resolution includes phase I of the entire Jefferson project, which will be completed in two phases. Phase I involves improving Jefferson from Seminole Street south. The improvements include a two-lane design with a traffic circle at Glenwood and a four-way stop at Seminole. A total of $700,000 was approved for the phase I improvements; those funds will come from the quarter-cent capital improvement money. Phase II will improve Jefferson from Seminole north.

Two ordinances concerning the Special Business District for the city of Springfield passed unanimously. The first ordinance allows a levy on real property of 16 cents per $100 assessed valuation of all real property located within the Special Business District, to be collected for the next fiscal year.

The second ordinance provided an appropriation of funds from the property tax collection to make up the Special Business District's budget of $20,900. The Special Business District maintains free customer parking downtown.

Council also held a first reading for an ordinance that would set the Springfield Convention and Visitor's Bureau's budget at approximately $1.2 million. Tracy Kimberlin, executive director of the CVB, said the budget does not reflect additional funding the bureau is seeking via grants from the state of Missouri.

Those additional grants, to be used on marketing and advertising campaigns, would bring the CVB's budget to about $1.5 million. The CVB estimates that the city will collect about $906,000 in room tax revenue during the next fiscal year, compared to about $849,000 in this fiscal year, Kimberlin said. Room tax revenue makes up the biggest portion of the CVB's budget.

During the next fiscal year, the CVB plans to launch a cooperative marketing project for the expo center to be built in Civic Park and the Ozark Empire Fair's E-Plex. The bureau also plans to begin marketing Springfield's planned fish and wildlife museum to nature and conservation groups that may be interested in meeting in Springfield because of the museum, Kimberlin said.

Council also held a public hearing for a proposed ordinance to rezone about an acre of land on the south side of East Cherry Street. The land's zoning would be changed from a multifamily residential district and Urban Conservation District No. 1 to Planned Development District No. 219. The land is the site of Cherry Mansion, also known as Cherry Manor, a former hospital that is now being renovated into office space.

Council also held a public hearing on an ordinance to establish a new set of rules and regulations for Planned Development District No. 22, which is 22 acres along East Independence, where Thompson Auto Sales plans to relocate its car sales operations. [[In-content Ad]]

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