By Adam Thorp
LOUISIANA – Louisiana City Council members will explore different ways of raising revenue — including, possibly, a tax increase on the ballot.
That was the tentative conclusion of the portion of Monday’s Louisiana City Council committee meetings dedicated to the city’s financial prospects.
Declining sales tax revenue and money from police fines and fees, alongside mounting costs and stagnant property values have put the city in a financial squeeze.
The Council passed this year’s budget with the knowledge that they might need to explore more permanent ways of shoring up revenue in order to avoid cuts to city services.
Susan Fregeau, the newly minted head of the council’s finance committee, told the council that her initial survey of the situation suggested that the Council may need to consider taking the question to the voters.
Fregeau said she looked at the city’s sales tax and real estate taxes. Louisiana’s sales tax seemed to be on the higher side based on a review of rates elsewhere in the state, though it matched the rate in Bowling Green.
“I don’t think that should be a source we look to for additional revenue,” Fregeau said about the sales tax.
State law, on the other hand, leaves the council little ability to adjust the real estate rate without putting the issue on the ballot.
“We’re going to have to go to the voters. Based on the rules, there’s no other way,” Fregeau said.
Mayor Marvin Brown suggested Fregeau look into the process. The upcoming November ballot, Brown said, would probably be too soon — he instead pointed to a potential date in April.
The Council also discussed other efforts to right the ship, fiscally, by, for instance, annexing land adjoining the city or consolidating the city’s fire department with other departments in the area.
Also on the Council’s plate Monday: championship signs on Louisiana's city limits.
The city and the Louisiana R-II school district have been looking into the possibility of adding signs recognizing local championships on the way into town.
As of last month’s school board meeting, both groups were under the impression that Missouri Department of Transportation regulations would only allow recognition of the most recent state championships by the school’s quiz bowl team. As of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Marvin Brown said MoDOT would allow signs recognizing Louisiana quiz bowl’s run as well as the 1986 football team and Louisiana’s status as “Highway 79 Mural City.”
There is, however, a complication for the cash-strapped city. The signs will be expensive: about $2,500 for each recognition on six signs on the way in to town.
Brown said he had told the district that they would need to decide how to find the money for the football and quiz bowl recognitions, and that the city would decide what to do about “Mural City.”
He was skeptical about the prospect of city money for Mural City signs, given the city’s financial situation.
“I think we’ve got better things to spend our money on,” Brown said.
The council decided to look into the city's laws governing u-turns in downtown Louisiana. After a Facebook post highlighted u-turns on Georgia Street, Police Chief April Epperson said she had examined the relevant ordinances and was unsure whether the city's rule against u-turns could be enforced if signs alerting drivers hadn't been posted.
City Manager Kelly Henderson told the Council that the city had been approached about buying a lot of land adjoining Riverview Cemetery, which the city could use to expand the crowded graveyard.
"The problem that you have is, long-term, pretty soon we're going to be out of lots," Henderson said. Henderson said the decision would be complicated by the cost of demolishing the structures on the spot and the city's financial situation.
The Council reviewed the only bid received by the city for upgrading the city's emergency sirens. BVPS Plate Solutions of Green Valley, Mo., offered 2 refurbished sirens for $27,000, which Henderson said was close to the expected amount.
The Council also gave Henderson a nod to bid for a used Missouri Department of Transportation truck for up to $15,000. The online auction was set to end Tuesday morning.
Henderson told the Council that a lack of equipment was preventing the city from getting to needed work.
Kiffany Ardeneaux updated the council on efforts to revive Louisiana's Momo Festival, a by-gone tribute to Louisiana's most famously hirusite resident. The event was slated for October, Ardeneaux said, and would include a dress-as-Momo contest and a screening of a Momo documentary.
Chief Epperson updated the council on several issues relevant to the city's police department.
The department may scrap its social media presence, Epperson said, over concerns that it was not equpped to comply with the Sunshine Law, which requires government bodies to keep and produce records on request.
Epperson suggested the council ask the municipal court judge to come in to review recent Missouri Supreme Court decisions. A decision restricting the fines levied by the police could have an impact on the department's budget if it goes into effect after a stay in place through January expires.
Epperson also noted that the department was adjusting to another ruling requiring a finding that a person is a threat to themselves or others before they are arrested. That ruling went into effect July 1.
Epperson told the council that this year's National Night Out would be on Tuesday, Aug. 6. People interested in participating can pick up forms in City Hall.
The council also reviewed a brief plan to convert the old Louisiana tennis courts into a dog park. The plan was prepared by Jeri Smith Keeth.
"I think if somebody is really enthusiastic about this, they need to find some funding," Jackson said. "Its a great idea. I've lived in towns with dog parks, and it works out wonderfully."
Ardeneaux reported that more than 400 addresses in Louisiana had not received water from the city in the last five years, part of an ongoing effort to get a handle on the city's vacant buildings. That number probably includes some number of lots where the building has torn down.