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by Alan McArthur
Landmark reporter

Platte County’s proposed half cent sales tax for parks–--promoted by a county commission comprised of three Republicans--will get no love from the official representatives of the Republican party in the county.

That became clear at a meeting of the Platte County Republican Central Committee Monday night. The central committee, by an overwhelming margin, passed a resolution to oppose the county's half-cent sales tax extension for parks.

The half cent sales tax for parks will be decided by county voters in a special election to be held Tuesday, Aug. 4.

The resolution passed by the central committee officially states:

"The Platte County Republican Central Committee does not support the renewal of the Platte County Parks sales tax at the rate of one-half cent."

After Jim Rooney, committee chairman, began a discussion about the tax and the parks master plan, several other committee members offered their opinions.

“We have to realize that we (central committee members) have constituents also, and with a half-cent tax many

Republicans would oppose it,” said Abby Olson, committee member.

“I am leaning towards 'Let's oppose it.' How can we point at Washington, D.C. and let this one go by? By saying nothing we would be surreptitiously supporting it.”

Olson continued: “I’m sure our county commissioners are wonderful 99% of the time, but I think they missed it this time. I wouldn’t say anything but it’s a whole lot of money.

“Unless we say no, I think there are going to be more and more Republicans out there saying ‘Where is our party?’” Olson added.

The proposed tax would raise anywhere from an estimated $76 million to $82 million in net park tax revenue. The parks department is estimating $76 million, while county auditor Siobhann Williams estimates the tax would net closer to $82 million over its 10-year lifespan.

The initial tax was passed in 2000 and will have netted more than $60 million by the time it expires at the end of 2010.

Committee member Edie Prost agreed with Olson. She said without clear opposition stated by the committee, many Republicans would be asking: “Why isn’t the GOP standing up and saying something?”

After the comments by Olson and Prost, chairman Jim Rooney attempted to regain control of the conversation.

“This is not the time to oppose (this tax), all it will do is split the party,” said Rooney. “The politically astute thing is it should have been less than a half-cent. I’m not happy with it, either. My intent is to make people understand that it’s on the ballot.”

Rooney said he didn't see what good opposing the tax would do, adding that it is currently up to the people of the county to vote on the issue.

Several members questioned chairman Rooney as to how a resolution opposed to a tax would “split the party.” It was pointed out the Republican platform calls for lower taxes and smaller government. Rooney did not directly respond to the question.

Committee member John Elliott said he realizes chairman Rooney has been placed in a tough position.

“I have great empathy for you in being chair of this committee. But why would opposing a crazy half cent sales tax split the party? Elliott asked.

Chairman Rooney answered that “the ones who participated in the process will take it as an affront.”

“I don't like that (the tax) is at a half-cent,” said Rebecca Rooney, committee member and wife of the chairman.“Two years ago they (county commissioners) knew this was coming and if it doesn't pass they will do it (place the tax on the ballot) for less.”

Mrs. Rooney also said in her opinion the money the county commissioners have authorized to be spent on surveys, focus groups and the special election could have been better spent elsewhere.

“This group has no role in second guessing the commissioners,” said Michael Maasen, committee member. Maasen’s wife is head of a group known as Friends of the Parks, an organization that promotes the county’s park program.

Maasen said that if the central committee begins questioning the tax, then the central committee should look at every government entity and question tax levies for school districts, etc. also. Several committee members supported Maasen’s suggestion of starting to question tax and spending issues by other entities.

“I’ve been pushing for us to do that for 10 years,” said John Elliott, committee member.
A majority of committee members disagreed with Maasen’s view about not questioning the tax proposal.

“I think it is our civic responsibility to question taxes,” said Rebecca Rooney. “Why can’t we say the tax is against our party platform?”

Fred Pouche, committee member, said: “We have three Republican commissioners who should hate taxes.”

Pouche was also critical of the tax being placed on what basically is a one-issue special election ballot in August. Pouche, a former state lawmaker, said in his time in the legislature he pushed for legislation that would require any tax issue to be placed on a general election ballot, which traditionally pull a much higher voter turnout than a special election.

“This is way too big a tax. If this splits the party then evidently the party needed splitting,” Elliott said. “If we as Republicans can’t say we oppose higher taxes then we don’t need to be Republicans.”

Prost agreed.

“Are we not representing Republicans in our community?” she asked.

“It is astronomically way more than what they need,” said Rebecca Rooney.

After the discussion, a motion was made by Jeff Watson to pass a resolution stating, “The Platte County Republican Central Committee does not support the renewal of the Platte County Parks sales tax at the rate of one-half cent.”

Watson said the wording of the motion targets the tax and “leaves the commissioners out of it.”
Timothy Thompson seconded the motion.

A voice vote was then held. Through a series of questions posed to the various committee members after the meeting, The Landmark verified the vote was 11 in favor and three opposed to the resolution.

Those voting in favor of the resolution to oppose the half cent sales tax proposal were: Fred Pouche, Abby Olson, Charlotte Hoverder, James Thomas, Timothy Thompson, John Elliott, Joe Vanover, Jeff Watson, Edie Prost, Rachel Paolillo, and Rebecca Rooney.

Those voting against the resolution were Mike Maasen, Cherie Pedego, and Jim Rooney.

Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, said she was “a little bit surprised” the committee did not ask the commissioners to come to the meeting.

“There were about a dozen people there, and we serve 80,000 people,” said Knight. “We have to listen to all kinds of folks. I believe there are some political agendas going on.”

Neither discussion of the topic nor the meeting itself was a surprise. The central committee meeting was listed on the county commission’s list of posted activities for the week. Central committee meetings are required by law to be open to the public, and last month county commissioner Jim Plunkett and director of administration Dana Babcock were present to defend the park tax proposal.

Heavy media coverage over the past month indicated the topic would be coming up again at Monday night’s meeting.

Though it’s not clear from where she is getting her impression, Knight said it seems like “everyone is arguing about an eighth of a cent difference in the tax.”

There was no discussion on Monday night from the committee that it would be more supportive of the tax if it were 3/8 cent vs. half cent.

The minutes of the June central committee meeting state: “Chairman Rooney noted that some on the committee were displeased with the commissioners’ vote to place the issue on the August 2009 ballot; that if the tax were to be renewed, the more politically astute thing to do was to recommend some amount less than ½ cent (e.g. 3/8% or 1/4%); and that all three commissioners were well aware of the displeasure of some members of the central committee.”

Knight said that if the current tax proposal fails on the August ballot, per state law the county would have to wait a year to put another tax initiative for parks on the ballot.

“I respect their decision, but it is up to the people of Platte County to decide whether they want to continue with the quality of life promoted through the parks and recreation tax,” said Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner. “I am not surprised by the resolution. There are a lot of people on the committee who would not have a parks program at all,” she said without listing specifics.

Dusenbery said there are a lot of positive things that the parks tax has given the county including the storm water improvement grant and the new parks.

“I feel like we have done the right thing,” said Dusenbery about placing the tax on the ballot at a half-cent.

Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, said he thought the resolution was interesting because, in his view, it seems the committee would support a tax at a lower rate.

Plunkett said that in the minutes from the committee's June meeting, it appears the central committee discussed the tax being at 3/8-cent or 1/4-cent and showed support for the parks tax at those levels.

“I am very pleased with the central committee,” said Plunkett. “I'll take it as we would get support, but they just don't like it at a half-cent.”



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