More public input needed before city projects go to vote

Friday, April 30, 2010

We were encouraged to see the number of citizens who turned out for Thursday night's town hall meeting about the facility needs for the police, fire, ambulance and city administration.

A straw vote revealed that while a majority of those present favored both construction projects -- one for fire and ambulance crews, the other for police and administration -- most people didn't favor placing the burden of paying for the projects entirely on property taxes. Both sales tax and a hybrid of sales and property taxes found favor among those placing sticky stars on sheets of poster paper.

Yes, the economy is scary, with the United States still in the throes of "The Great Recession" and Greece and the rest of Europe in danger of slipping into something much worse.

But anyone who toured the public safety center should know that it has outlived its usefulness, reinforced Thursday night by a computer contractor who pointed out more shortcomings in the electrical power and networking capabilities available to the city.

The townhall meeting itself illustrated the lack of handicapped accessability to the City Council's regular meeting place in the basement of Memorial Auditorium.

With one councilman temporarily in a wheelchair, the meeting was moved to the Heritage Senior Center, a place we would like to see the council keep using until a new council chambers can be constructed. Yes, city staff is more than willing to make accommodations available to those who aren't able to descend the stairs to the council chambers, but those with limited mobility shouldn't be forced to ask for special help just to attend a public meeting.

The city's plans don't include a jail, which would throw that responsibility on the county, which is legally obligated to provide one. Police Chief Ike Brown reported that the current holding facility could be turned over to the county without much red tape.

But perhaps the most important point made was that the city and county couldn't continue to wait for one another to move forward on the jail issue. While the county has been purchasing property adjoining the courthouse, a commissioner present at Thursday night's meeting wouldn't confirm that it might be setting aside the land for a jail.

But the council should be congratulated for promising to put the question to the taxpayers, rather than just using its existing power to push the projects through.

This won't be the last town hall meeting on this important issue, and we hope the current facilities are opened to the public for at least one more tour before the issue goes to the voters.

We urge members of the voting public to take advantage of as many of these learning opportunities as possible before they make up their minds.

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