Many City Hall issues saddled with myths, half-truths

There are plenty of myths and rumors floating around Jefferson City about city issues and topics. The News Tribune has compiled some of the more widespread city myths, seeking to either bust them or verify them.

Money collected from the lodging tax can be used for anything from roads to services.

Busted: In February 2011, Jefferson City voters approved a 4 percent increase in the lodging tax on hotel and motel guests. The proceeds were intended to be “expended for the promotion of tourism,” according to ballot language, though the ballot issue was marketed to voters as providing funding for the conference center project. Therefore, the lodging tax collections from that increase are earmarked for conference center funding, though the city legally could spend the money on activities related to the promotion of tourism without seeking voter approval, but no other city services or operations could use that money.

Voters never approved a conference center.

Plausible: Though proponents of a conference center often point to the February 2011 vote to increase the lodging tax as showing clear community support, the question of whether Jefferson City should seek a conference center has never been put to voters. What has been put to voters is the question of whether to use lodging tax collections to pay for construction of a conference center, which passed, and whether to use $10 million from a proposed economic development sales tax to expand the exhibit hall space and enhance the facility, which failed.

The conference center was voted down in Transformation.

Busted: Transformation was an economic development strategic plan, put forward by the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce, which failed on the February 2012 ballot. It proposed a 10-year, half-cent economic development sales tax and was expected to generate $40.1 million to use on 30 projects. Only two of the listed projects in Transformation were tied to the conference center, using $10 million of the estimated revenue to cover expansions and facility upgrades. Voters could have voted down the sales tax for any one of the 30 projects, and it’s a stretch to claim the conference center was the sole project bringing down the tax.

Jefferson City operates under the city manager form of government.

Busted: Jefferson City operates under the mayor-administrator-council form of government, per the City Charter. The City Charter establishes a city administrator, nominated and appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of a majority of the City Council. The charter establishes a city administrator is responsible “to the mayor and the council for the administration of all city affairs placed in his charge ... shall coordinate and generally supervise the operation of all departments, both line and staff.”

The council-manager form of government is often used by large cities that typically have a mayor who presides over council meetings and serves as the city’s ceremonial and political leader, but has no real administrative authority or veto power.

The Oak Hills Golf Course and the Washington Park Ice Arena should provide profits to the city’s general revenue.

Busted: Both the Oak Hills Golf Course and the Washington Park Ice Arena are under the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, which is funded almost entirely by a dedicated half-cent sales tax. The department receives a very small amount of general revenue for a tree trimming program, and the revenue collected from the parks sales tax is spent only within the department.

While neither the golf course nor the ice arena is profitable (expenses outweigh revenues at both locations) any profits that were to come from either facility would not be put into general revenue. It would be put right back into the Parks and Recreation fund.

The budget shortfall earlier this year was caused by the economic downturn.

Busted: The $1.68 million budget shortfall discovered in February was caused by continual errors in past budgeting at the city, as well as lost revenues. But the economic downturn itself had very little to do with the shortfall. City officials said when the shortfall was announced that the city had been making decisions based on incorrect projections for years, leading to stark differences between projections and collections. The city also incorrectly projected the amount of revenue to be received through cellphone audits.

Another factor in the budget shortfall was falling sales tax revenues, but, in the 2013 fiscal year, those revenues were projected to be about $600,000 more than the city estimated it would receive.

The streets in Jefferson City are in terrible condition.

Plausible: Jefferson City residents often complain about the state of their street, much like city dwellers everywhere. But whether the streets really are in terrible condition is a matter of opinion and depends on who is making the judgment.

One issue that arises is the number of streets within city limits that are not city owned or maintained. The state is responsible for a number of city streets, including any overpass going over a road or highway that is maintained by the Missouri Department of Transportation, any lettered road, such as Route C, and any numbered road, like Business 50.

The lodging tax has no sunset.

Busted: The tax expires in 2035 and is expected to generate $9 million in city funds for a conference center.

You can’t fight City Hall.

Busted: According to one former city official, nothing could be farther from the truth. “The reality is, is that most people who come in and have some sort of objection generally get their way,” said former City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus. “It kind of works out much more that way.”

The city’s hotel occupancy rate is down along with the average daily room rates.

Busted: According to the Smith Travel Research report for August, provided by the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, the year-to-date occupancy rate is 55.3 percent, a 10 percent increase from the year to date in 2012. The state overall had 0.9 percent increase in the same category.

As for the average daily room rates, the report shows the year-to-date figure is $68.08 for Jefferson City, a 2.3 percent increase from the year to date in 2012.

All city employees must live within city limits.

Busted: The City Charter only specifies the city clerk needs to live within city limits, but city code requires the city administrator, city clerk, fire chief, police chief and director of public works to live within city limits. All other department directors must live within a 15-mile radius of Jefferson City, and all city employees must live within 25 miles of city limits.

Accompanying article:

Jefferson City Council struggling with misconceptions

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