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County wants to keep
park tax at half cent

by Alan McArthur
Landmark reporter

Indications are the Platte County Commission intends to place renewal of the county’s half cent sales tax for parks on the August ballot.

Renewal of the tax at its current half cent rate has been promoted by those close to the county parks program. Some fiscal conservatives have been pushing for the county to ask for a lower rate than a half cent--perhaps an eighth cent or quarter cent--this time around, now that much land has been purchased, trails and parks have been established and two community centers have been built.
The county commission will have an ordinance on its agenda at its Thursday meeting to place the half-cent sales tax on the ballot on August 4, 2009.

In order to make it on the August ballot, the county will need to file the appropriate paperwork with the Platte County Board of Elections by 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Wendy Flanigan, director for the board of elections, told The Landmark this week. Flanigan says no other entities appear set to hold an August election, meaning the sales tax question will likely be the only issue on an August ballot.

According to Brian Nowotny, parks director, the proposed ordinance facing the commission at its Thursday meeting will be to renew the half-cent sales tax for 10 years when the current tax expires at the end of 2010.

Nowotny said that since the sales tax was approved in 2000, the department has acquired 880 acres of new ground for parks and currently owns 1,153 acres. He said that of the total land owned by the department, 25 percent is developed as parks with ball fields and trails. The other 800 acres does not yet have a park plan, Nowotny told the county commission in a report at its meeting last week.

Nowotny said that if the sales tax issue is not approved by voters then there is a mandatory 12 month waiting period before it could be on the ballot again.

The parks department would be scaled back and the funding for maintenance would come from the general fund if the sales tax is not renewed, said Nowotny.

“We would focus on maintenance and taking care of the existing parks,” said Nowotny.

The department currently has seven full-time employees and five part-time maintenance employees.
Nowotny said the department spends about $400,000 on maintenance each year.

“We are kind of a small department,” said Nowotny. “We rely a lot on our partners.”

The department partnered with the YMCA to construct and maintain the community centers and partners with the Missouri Department of Conservation for the operation of the Parma Woods area.

According to Nowotny, the sales tax is projected to have a net revenue--once tax increment financing (TIF) money is removed, etc.--of around $60 million over the total 10 year spread. Nowotny said the department gets around $7 million annually.

The department provides a parks outreach grant program and awards $200,000 annually to local entities developing park projects.

In order to be approved, the measure requires a simple majority. In 2000, the sales tax passed in August with 57 percent voting in favor of the tax. The voter turnout for the election was 22 percent.

Nowotny said that if the tax is passed, the department will focus on purchasing more land as stream buffers for trails and to acquire land in flood plains and extend the riverfront trail.

The department is currently updating the parks master plan and is collecting information on its website

Nowotny said that if the tax is passed they hope to increase the outreach grant to $250,000 awarded annually.

A question on a survey in 2008 had results of 26 percent of respondents in favor of a half-cent sales tax for 10 years. Another 22 percent supported either a 3/8-cent tax for 10 years or half-cent tax for 10 years followed by a 1/8-cent tax for maintenance. Of the respondents 18 percent were not sure and 10 percent were not in favor of renewing the tax.

On Tuesday, Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, said she had not seen the ordinance to place the issue on the ballot and was not sure what would be recommended.

Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, claimed she had just received the proposed ordinance on Tuesday.

Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, said officials had discussed the issue two weeks ago at a meeting with the board of parks commissioners. Plunkett said the original idea had been for the renewal to be for 20 years, but it was recommended it be shortened to 10 years.

Plunkett said he has been struggling with the issue of renewing the parks sales tax and said he wouldn’t be comfortable if the county didn’t place the issue on the ballot and give people an opportunity to vote on the tax.



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