St. Mary May Cut Delinquent Taxpayers’ Utilities

By Mark Evans

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Any St. Mary residents who have not been paying city taxes may want to stock up on bottled water and flashlight batteries.

The St. Mary Board of Aldermen passed a bill on first reading during its Feb. 11 meeting that calls for the city to terminate utility services for any residents in arrears on their city tax bills.

The ordinance will get a second reading at the March 11 meeting, after which the aldermen will vote on it.

“The bill’s going to lay over for 30 days,” Mayor Carlton Wyatt said. “It’s going to be a controversial bill, probably. People have the right to read it and decipher it and we have a right to explain it.”

Wyatt provided the board a list of people who owe back taxes.

“Some of them three or four or five years, some of them two years, some of them one year,” the mayor said. “That’s money this city desperately needs. The penalty for not paying is not enough.”

Wyatt doesn’t think financial hardship is an issue with many of the delinquent taxpayers.

“I do know that some of the names on this list can afford to pay their bill,” he said. “I know them personally. They just ain’t paying.”

Alderman Karl Schultz asked whether any provision was being made for hardship cases, if there are any.

“I don’t think that we legally can,” Wyatt replied. “I don’t now how. Because we can’t pay it and we can’t forgive it. I don’t know.”

“I was just concerned,” Schultz said.

Trying to pick and choose which residents should be able to afford to pay and which shouldn’t would create more problems than they  already have, Wyatt said.

“There may be organizations and things that will help low-income [households] and we will do anything in our power we could to help them get assistance,” Wyatt said. “If you come up with names or places and things. I’ve found that most generally in low-income they know all the ropes.”

Alderman Dr. Zen Duda suggested that things might be different, due to the pandemic.

“Our community and our outlying area has been pretty fortunate,” Wyatt said. “All of our factories are going. There ain’t hardly anything in Ste. Genevieve or Perryville [shut down], except maybe some of the restaurants – and some of them ain’t having a hard time – but as far as the factories, I don’t think Ste. Genevieve County or Perry County, or even Farmington, I don’t think any of those factories have shut down because of the pandemic. But I know people have trouble.”

Duda argued that restaurant workers are suffering..

Wyatt again stressed that picking and choosing hardship cases would be treacherous.

“It sounds good, but I don’t see how we could legally do it,” he said.

“We have to shut off people’s water all the time,” Wyatt added, “and there are a lot of organizations that come around and help them out. But we have to do it because we have to treat it all the same.”

It was noted that some of the people on the delinquent tax list no longer live in St. Mary. It was agreed that the list will be edited to get rid of  inappropriate names.

Wyatt said similar ordinances have worked well in other cities,

Police chief Adam Bequette, who works full -time for the Scott City Police Department, said that another Scott County town, Morley, got more than $40,000 in back taxes collected after passing such an ordinance.

“You’ll have some pushback,” he said, “but eventually they’ll know that you’re going to do that.”

“We’ve got to do something to get back on track,” Wyatt said.

He told the board that he would have the total dollar amount of back taxes that are owed the city at the March meeting.

DEPARTMENT REPORTS ARE GIVEN

Reports were given for a few of the city departments.

Emergency management director David Woods said he is still sending in paperwork the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency is requesting for the last flood. 

In the police report, Bequette reported he had 50 calls in the past month. He also thanked the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce for its donation and previous donation of $5,000. He explained he was able to get a discount of about $100 from Plaza Tire to help with the expense.

Bequette said the park is locked for public safety reasons and only one person complained, saying that violated her religious freedoms. Bequette then explained he may need to attend a four-day training in Branson for help him meet his POST (Police Officer Standard Training) requirements. He also has ongoing investigations. He may get subpoenaed to Florida for a case but explained that they will have to pay the expenses. 

He has sent out a lot of notices of ordinance violations and had expected the violators to show up to complain at this meeting but they didn’t show. Wyatt noted that Dave Otte did a great job of modifying a transmission for a 2008 Taurus to work in the city’s 2009 Taurus. 

Fire chief Frankie Ullman reported he has two fire investigations, had two motor vehicle accidents and one brush fire. They put new fuel lines on the new truck and will test the pumps when it gets warmer. The decals and equipment will be added soon.

Wyatt said a USDA grant is available that is 75-25 match and that the chamber is willing to cover the 25 percent city obligation. This would be utilized to build an extension onto the firehouse that would be used for office and meeting space. Plans are being drawn up so they can be bid on by contractors as required. 

Ullman then asked if the city would approve the purchase of hydrant flags that are spring loaded and have reflectors making it easier for firefighters to find hydrants in the dark. He also discussed roadway reflectors that also help guide to hydrants.  The board unanimously approved the hydrant flags.

Alderman Ron Barnett gave the street department report. He said the city plow truck had its hydraulic hose fixed by Otte and was now operational.  The Ste. Genevieve County Commission has helped the city with some salt and cinders.

He then mentioned that the annual Poker Run, part of the annual  Spring For Down Syndrome fund-raising event will be held June 29. UTVs, motorcycles and Jeeps will take part.  The route will take the riders through St. Mary

It was noted that the event is a good fund raiser for a good cause and has always been well- organized, with a safe route and any trash cleaned up. Marzuco Electric is a sponsor.  Wyatt said the city welcomes this event and the UTV ordinance is not meant to prohibit or regulate special events.

Ullman also reported for the water department. He said end of year reports have been submitted. Ullman then reported that the sewer main on Pine and 7th Street was clogged and he has ordered a chemical agent that will clear the line and not require digging up the pipes. He then discussed that butterfly valves clog easily. Only three structures were impacted by this issue.

Duda then brought up the issue of roaming cats. The board agreed that there are few resources to help mitigate excess roaming cats locally. Duda said he would talk with shelters and veterinarians in Cape Girardeau to seek help.