City Tax Plan Could Enhance University Safety



May 14, 2004 – A quarter-cent fire sales tax being proposed by the City of Cape Girardeau will appear on the June 8 ballot, and city officials say it would provide newer and more modern safety and rescue equipment, and help to maintain staffing levels that would benefit the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.

If the measure is approved, the Cape Girardeau Fire Department plans on purchasing a new 100-foot aerial ladder truck that would provide reliable service to the entire community, including the campus, said Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Rick Ennis.

The measure also would help to maintain staffing of the city’s police force, which currently relies on the University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) for frequent assistance, said Doug Richards, DPS director at Southeast Missouri State University. With more DPS officers remaining on campus, the University would enjoy a full corps of police protection at all times.

Public safety officials with the City of Cape Girardeau say passage of the ballot issue is vital for a number of reasons.

The fire department’s current 100-foot ladder truck is a 1986 model and is often out of service. “We have had so many mechanical and electrical problems with it,” Ennis said. Whether it is operational “depends on what day it is,” he added. “It is also very difficult to find parts for it.”

When it is operational, the current ladder truck can reach eight to nine stories, about three-quarters of the height of the Towers residence hall complex. Richards says a reliable aerial truck is a necessity for “reaching hard-to-get-to places.”

 “We need that truck not only for multi-story buildings, but also for Academic Hall, the Scully Building, Brandt Hall, Dempster Hall” and Southeast’s residence halls and classroom buildings. “There are a number of places where that truck would be useful,” he said.

Because the truck is unreliable, the city relies on Jackson and Sikeston for assistance with their ladder trucks when needed, Ennis said. Jackson’s truck can reach only about four stories, though, and Sikeston’s about five or six stories.

If the tax measure is approved, the city would purchase a new aerial ladder truck at a cost of $500,000 to $600,000 and also refurbish the current one, Ennis says. The city would then have two ladder trucks available, he said. A new aerial truck could be available next spring.

If the measure is approved, the city also plans to relocate Fire Station #3 to a new station on North Sprigg Street on property the city owns north of Blanchard School, Ennis said. This station would replace an aging and cramped station located on Emerald Street and would be able to house more apparatus and personnel. The Emerald Street station, just east of Sprigg Street across from the Towers Complex, was built in 1951, and newer equipment will not fit in the building.

The new station would house the city’s current 911 call center, currently located in cramped quarters in the Cape Girardeau Police Station on South Sprigg Street. The new station also would house an Emergency Operations Center.

Either the new station or the fire station on South Sprigg would house one of the city’s aerial ladder trucks, if the plan is approved. The second aerial truck would remain in its current location at the fire station on Mount Auburn Road, Ennis said.

The city then would be protected with aerial trucks on both the southwest and northeast corners of the city, a luxury the city has never enjoyed. With an aerial truck housed in the northeast quadrant of the city, response time to the campus would be enhanced if an aerial truck is needed, he said.

Ennis said the entire city, including the University, also would receive enhanced 911 service if the center is relocated to the proposed new station. Currently, two dispatchers working 12-hour shifts work out of a tiny 911-call room in the Cape Girardeau Police Department.

“The new station would be a large benefit to the whole community,” Ennis said, adding it would likely open in early 2006. “It will have better emergency medical equipment for serving the University and the entire community.”Ennis said the Cape Fire Department’s “jaws of life” were purchased in 1986 and failed during an extrication in March. In addition, its self-contained breathing apparatus, which is an essential piece of safety equipment for firefighters, is very old and replacement parts are difficult to find.

“Over the years, we have ended up with three different types and styles of breathing apparatus, which is very inefficient from both an operational and maintenance stand-point,” he said. “It is only a matter of time before a failure of one of these units will cause injury to our firefighters.”

In addition to the needs of the fire department, Cape Girardeau Assistant Police Chief Carl Kinnison said the city’s police department is currently severely understaffed.

Kinnison said the city often asks the Southeast Department of Public Safety to assist with calls since the city has only four officers and a supervisor on the street at any one time.

Richards says the primary objective of DPS is to patrol the campus. But when University officers leave the campus to assist the city, “that removes us from campus,” he said. “When we are off campus, it leaves our campus more vulnerable to something occurring.”

If the tax measure passes, the Cape Girardeau police department would have more staff and likely would be less reliant on University police officers.

Richards says that because DPS is adequately staffed, the campus enjoys a low crime rate. If the city is able to fully staff its force, that “will help deter the criminal element from even making it to campus,” he said. The tax measure “will give them (the city) more manpower and can do nothing but enhance our safety,” Richards said.

Kinnison says the Cape Police Department also desperately needs updated personal protective gear. But, turnover, due to low salaries, is the primary issue facing the department, he said.

“We have difficulty retaining and recruiting trained and experienced police officers,” he said. “So many officers have left for better pay. Several positions have been vacant for months.”

With more consistent staffing, Kinnison said the Cape Girardeau police department also could step up enforcement efforts at student parties in locations on the periphery of the campus.

“Our ability to assist the University would really improve, and the crime rate, as a whole, in the community would benefit,” he said.

If the measure is approved, the sales tax will cost the average Cape Girardeau household $44 a year, which is just 25 cents for every $100 spent, according to city officials.