There is a question about how many streetlights have been installed in Joplin and whether the number is close to a commitment made to voters when a half-cent public safety sales tax was approved in 2006.
Proponents of the sales tax at the time told voters that streetlights would be installed every half-block, which would essentially double the number of lights within the city, in order to reduce crime in neighborhoods that then had few streetlights. The tax also funded additional police officers, firefighters, fire stations and public safety training as part of the goal of the sales tax to increase safety.
It was estimated in 2006 discussions about the tax proposal that an additional 3,700 streetlights would be installed across the city.
The local electric utility, Empire District Electric Co. at the time, was to install the lights and bill the city for the monthly utility charge. The city also has streetlights that are funded by the half-cent transportation sales tax.
But electric bills have omitted the number of lights that were covered by the charges. City officials and Liberty Utilities, which purchased Empire, are now trying to determine the number of lights and the proper billing for them, especially after the 2011 tornado destroyed many that have since been replaced.
In order to count them, the utility company platted a map with locations of the existing streetlights and designated which fund was billed for each of them. The City Council on Monday night was provided a copy of the map along with a report by the city finance director, Leslie Haase.
She said that the public safety sales tax is being billed for 2,279 lights and the transportation sales tax is being billed for 2,829 lights. While it looks as if there needs to be another 1,400 lights to reach the 3,700 promised to voters, the electric company told city officials that actually only 199 would fulfill the vow based on the number of lights the utility company believes were in operation in 2006. The tax took effect Jan. 1, 2007, and does not expire.
Councilman Phil Stinnett questioned the numbers.
"I'm sorry. I can't buy this," Stinnett said of the numbers and the map. He said the utility has attributed a number of lights to the public safety tax that were in existence before the tax was passed. He contended that many of the lights now attributed to the public safety tax should be among those connected to the transportation sales tax.
The finance director said there is still more work to do on the tabulations and asked the council to allow more time to work on the streetlight inventory.
The council also was given an update on the status of projects and funding by the quarter-cent parks and stormwater sales tax that voters renewed in 2012 and the three-eighths-cent capital improvements sales tax that was renewed in 2015.
Many of the projects that voters were told would be funded by those taxes have been finished, Haase told the council. She said she city staff would be proposing additional projects in the future that could be funded or the council would have the option of retaining the surplus for future use. City departments keep lists of needed projects where a funding source is not available. Proposals could come from those lists, the council was told.
The council also discussed whether to adopt a proposed traffic calming policy that would cite the steps on how to address traffic problems in neighborhoods. The measure failed because of a lack of a majority. There was a vote 4-3 vote to enact the policy, but the measure required an affirmative vote of at least five council members to pass. Two council members on the nine-member panel were absent.
Residents in the Sunnyvale neighborhood have asked the city take steps to reduce speeding on 36th Street under the policy.