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City Beat: Council approves ’18 legislative priorities

Members also review nuisance properties and street improvements

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Springfield City Council members are on top of their plans for the new year.

Council members Nov. 27 approved a resolution setting in place its 2018 legislative priorities.

Council documents identify the priorities as retaining local control, avoiding unfunded mandates, and promoting public safety, economic vitality and fiscal sustainability.

The first two – pertaining to local control and unfunded mandates – have been part of council’s legislative priorities for years, said City Manager Greg Burris. City officials oppose reducing or removing local authority and any bills that would result in a new net cost to the city or its residents.

The next three prioritize education and workforce development; funding for public safety, health and immunizations; protection of Springfield’s natural environment; and support for transportation, affordable housing, downtown revitalization, a statewide tobacco tax and Medicaid transformation.

Other priorities include capping the amount of interest charged for payday loans and car title companies that may prey on low-income residents, establishing a statewide prescription drug monitoring program and implementing a sales tax on internet purchases, according to council documents. Burris reported to councilmembers November sales tax revenue came in 7 percent below budget. With $2.65 million collected in November, it’s the third month of the fiscal year that came in below budget on sales taxes. Collections July through November are down 2 percent from the budgeted $18.2 million, according to a city report.

Also, council documents cited an average interest rate of 451 percent on payday loans in Missouri in 2014, based on the state commissioner of finance’s report to the governor. Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri Congregational Coordinator Susan Schmalzbauer spoke on behalf of the nonprofit in support of the priorities.

“We are heartened by the council’s unremitting support for predatory lending and meaningful ethics reform,” she said.

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

“I’ve always felt that this is the wrong venue for this,” she said before the vote. “We’re not passing these ourselves; they’re not actual bills and so I’ve (always) disagreed with this on a fundamental basis.”

No more nuisances
Changes are coming for Springfield landlords. Council approved several bills that will put more responsibility on landowners to address problem properties.

Building Development Services Director Chris Straw, who originally presented the bills to council at the Nov. 13 meeting, said cases of nuisance properties have increased in recent years.

When it rolls out next year, the new legislation will require landowners to register their properties with the city and accept responsibility when addressing such issues as excessive trash, dilapidated buildings and indoor items left outside. According to council documents, it also establishes the definition of a vacant structure as one that is substantially void of personal belongings or furnishings.

Councilwoman Jan Fisk suggested tabling the bill addressing nuisance properties and the owners’ responsibility to address property issues. Councilman Craig Fishel made a motion to table the bill, and it was seconded by Fulnecky. They agreed that more input on the bill was needed before a vote.

The tabling failed 3-5, with Mayor Ken McClure and council members Phyllis Ferguson, Mike Schilling, Tom Prater and Richard Ollis in opposition.

“I think that we need to put thought in it and listen to the people that do this every day before we take this step,” Fulnecky reiterated before the bill’s final vote.

Ferguson argued the issue had been brought before city government many times.

“We’ve talked this thing to death,” Ferguson said. “We know there’s a problem and it’s past time.”

Ferguson further addressed council regarding the 2015 Community Listen meetings that went through nine neighborhoods in Zone 1. The listening tour was prompted by alarming trends in areas such as crime, poverty and illness.

“It was the No. 1 priority to address chronic nuisance properties,” Ferguson said.

The bill passed, with Fulnecky opposed.

City spokeswoman Cora Scott said property registration will have a one-year grace period.

“We expect to have the online registry portal up by the first of the year and property owners will have until the end of 2018 to get registered,” she said.

Infrastructure improvements
In addition, council heard two first-reading bills to approve the plans and specifications of two special projects: The Grant Avenue and Route 66 Streetscape Project, and the 2017 Sidewalk Project.

The Grant Avenue and Route 66 Streetscape Project would complete improvements along Grant Avenue between Olive Street and Walnut Street. The plan includes construction of new sidewalks and storm sewers, gas and water pipe replacements, and signal improvements where Grant intersects Walnut and College streets.

The 2017 Sidewalk Project would construct new sidewalks in five areas along West Grand Street, East Central Street, West Commercial Street, East Turner Street and North Jefferson Avenue.

In both projects, contractor Hunter Chase & Associates Inc. had the leading bids: $954,313 for the Grant/Route 66 Streetscape and $137,798 for the sidewalk improvements. Council plans to vote on the bills at its Dec. 11 meeting.

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