Calmer council showcases volunteer spirit

Brian Brown, ReporterBrian Perdue just felt he had to do something.

Perdue, a member of the city’s Citizen Sales Tax Oversight Committee, believes tax dollars are being wasted, and he wanted a second chance to let Springfield City Council members know how he felt. Perdue addressed council at the end of its Oct. 8 meeting.

His issue: he doesn’t think the hotel-motel tax formerly allocated to the Wonders of Wildlife museum should be diverted, in part, to local nonprofits to help generate tourism.

On Sept. 24, council approved a measure that will direct 40 percent of $330,000 in annual tax revenues WOW used to receive to the city’s debt subsidy on the Jordan Valley Park and Mediacom Ice Park, with the other 60 percent available for nonprofits. Perdue had asked council at the Sept. 10 meeting to approve an alternative bill that would steer 100 percent of the tax revenues towards eliminating the $16 million debt shortfall on the downtown parks that is being covered by the city’s general fund.

In 1998, Springfield voters approved an increase in the hotel-motel tax for purposes that included supporting community nonprofits. One year later, the city entered into an agreement directing a portion of that increase to the operating budget for the Wonders of Wildlife museum. Last fall, WOW officials terminated the agreement, asking the city to direct the revenue to other priorities.

Perdue told council on Sept. 10, and again on Oct. 8, that easing the city’s general fund subsidy should be the priority, and that the city shouldn’t gamble with tax dollars like it did with WOW and the ice park.

“What are we taking away from the general fund that we don’t need?” a frustrated Perdue asked council members at the Oct. 8 meeting.

Following his comments to council, Perdue said fellow members of the tax committee he serves on encouraged him to tell council members how he feels. Perdue said his concerns about the hotel-motel tax funds are what drew him to get involved with the citizens task force to begin with. At the Oct. 8 meeting, which was sparsely attended and only lasted about 45 minutes, Perdue asked that council consider repealing the tax revenue measure it had just passed. With only two members voting in favor of the proposal Perdue supported, a repeal isn’t likely.

In recent months, council has seen its share of civic involvement. Overflow crowds have come out to speak their minds on hot-button issues that would change the city’s approach to misdemeanor marijuana possession and its nondiscrimination ordinance. In the last couple of years, the city’s smoking ordinance and the E-Verify issues have also drawn substantial civic involvement.

Perdue’s speech on Oct. 8 wasn’t picked up by any local media outlet that I’m aware of, including my reporting on the meeting for SBJ. The media has moved on and other topics have taken priority. But his speech reminded me that in little ways, all the time, people are engaged in our community. Council members themselves are volunteering their time to guide the public interest and address the concerns of citizens.

I’d encourage everyone to pay attention to the important work council performs at every meeting. The city is shaped and molded by the everyday efforts of folks such as Brian Perdue. Folks who just feel they have to do something.

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