Springfield, MO

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Quarter-cent tax returns to ballot

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Springfield voters Feb. 3 will again have the opportunity to approve a quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax for another three years. The quarter-cent tax has funded street, signal, park and sidewalk improvements in the city since 1989, when it was approved for the first time.

The next round of improvements would begin in 1998 and end in 2001, said City Manager Tom Finnie. The tax returns to the ballot for voter approval every three years; a majority of yes votes would make this the fourth such approval.

The quarter-cent tax will be paired with another tax: the increase in the city's hotel and motel tax. Finnie said the history of dual-tax items is sparse, but when tax items have been paired, they have often both passed. County Clerk Richard Struckhoff said that pocketbook items will get voters out, but still predicts only 10 percent to 15 percent voter turnout for the Feb. 3 election.

The quarter-cent tax would bring in a total of about $19 million in the next three years, and would fund several street improvements; Finnie estimates that about $13 million of the money would be spent on street improvements.

Another street project, the "punching through" of Jefferson Avenue, a project which could take a number of forms, is provided for with a contingency plan. A total of $700,000 is "there just in case, depending on what council decides to do," Finnie said.

In addition to road improvements, the next round of projects includes parks development and phase I of a family center at Chesterfield Park.

A total of $900,000 is set aside for "shared-cost-agreement projects," projects that a developer agrees to pay a portion of, Finnie said. For example, if a developer opens a new retail center and needs the roadway expanded, then the city will examine the possibility of partially funding that expansion, Finnie said.

The current rate of quarter cent is sufficient to fund the capital improvement projects needed, council members agree.

Finnie said the rate is low compared to other Missouri cities, which have as high as a half-cent capital improvement tax.

Other projects to be funded between 1998 and 2001 if the tax is approved include improvements to Fremont Avenue at Disney School and at the intersection of Fremont and Sunset, the widening of Grand Street east of Fort, improvements to Washington and Young-Lilley Parks, and improvements to the Dickerson Park Zoo relevant to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The improvements to the parks are part of ongoing updating of those facilities, said Dan Kinney, director of parks and recreation for the city.

The total list of improvements includes about 28 projects.

The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce has been asked to develop and manage the campaign for both the

quarter-cent tax and the hotel/motel tax items, Finnie said. Because the tax has passed three times previously, the campaign committee has chosen to focus on the hotel/motel tax increase, said Carol Williamson, who co-chairs the chamber committee with John Moore.

Area contractors are also in favor of the quarter-cent tax remaining in effect. Randy Hawkins, president of the Springfield Contractors Association and general manager of Conco, said the capital improvement tax has also created much-needed work.

"Conco has been in line with other ready-mix companies for those contracts when the street improvements have been made. We've gotten a lot of work from it over the past several years, and a lot of other companies in town have, too," Hawkins said.

He added that the city's efforts to keep streets in good repair have been good for business in general.

"If we did not have this capital improvement tax, then the only street improvements you'd see would be routine maintenance-type improvements. There would not be the improvements to streets that we've had," Hawkins said.

Mike Crocker, superintendent at the Dickerson Park Zoo, said the zoo has not only benefitted from the work on its facilities, but also from the work on streets such as Norton Road.

The intersection of Norton Road is set to be moved several feet to the north during the next round of improvements, which will improve traffic flow when the zoo or the fairgrounds have special events, Crocker said.

The capital improvement tax has been taking in about $5.5 million for the past few years, Finnie said, and is expected to take in about $6 million per year during the next three years.

The improvements to be made 1998-2001 to streets are: Fremont at Disney School; Fremont/Sunset intersection; Grand Street widening; Grant Avenue design; Norton Road widening; Republic/Fremont intersection; Republic Road improvements at Scenic; Walnut Lawn Street improvements.

For parks, projects slated are: community park and school park development (a joint park between these two entities will be acquired and developed); Cooper Park soccer improvements; phase I of a family center at Chesterfield Park; continued greenway development; Nathanael Greene Park parking; Oak Grove Community Center roof; park reforestation and irrigation program; Ray Kelly Senior Center expansion; Washington, Young-Lilley Park improvements; Dickerson Park Zoo ADA requirements.

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