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by Alan McArthur and Ivan Foley
Landmark staff

Platte County voters have approved a 10-year extension of the county parks and recreation half cent sales tax.

On Tuesday, county voters okayed the half-cent sales tax renewal, which will end in 2020. The measure passed with 53.99 percent voter approval.

There were 2,667 votes in favor and 2,273 votes against the tax. According to the Platte County Board of Elections, 8.1 percent of registered voters in the county went to the polls Tuesday.

The measure carried heavily in some southern precincts of the county, including Parkville and Riverside, but was strongly opposed by voters in many northern precincts--including Platte City, Camden Point, and New Market/Dearborn (see all precinct totals in graphic that accompanies the rest of this story on page A-5). Weston voters were basically split 50-50 on the question.

In the weeks before the election, opposition to the tax began to surface with both of the political central committees passing resolutions opposing the tax. The Republican Central Committee and the Democratic Central Committee each approved resolutions opposing the half-cent extension.

The original parks tax was approved by voters in 2000 by a 57-43% count. It allowed the county to acquire more than 1,000 acres of land to be used for parks. The tax has generated around $60 million net for the county's parks department.

The tax extension is expected to net between $76 and $82 million net over the next 10 years.

Brian Nowotny, parks and recreation director, has previously said the department will focus on maintaining the system already in place and also plans to expand the trails network.

A group called “Yes for Parks” was started to support the tax proposal. There is a Twitter account supporting the effort and the group organized rallies to gather support.

On the Twitter account “Yes 4 Parks” there was a post around 8 p.m. saying “YES YES YES YES YES FOR PARKS WINS. THANKS FOR ALL YOUR HARD WORK.”

On Tuesday, Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, wanted to thank voters for approving the sales tax.

“I think the grassroots effort was very effective,” said Knight. “Voters didn't listen to the negative things from Chicago, Saint Joseph, Kansas City, and Briarcliff. I want to thank the voters. We will spend the money very carefully.”

Calls seeking comment from Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, and Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, were not returned by deadline.

On Dusenbery's Twitter account she posted, “Yes4Parks won by 8%! Thank u Platte County!!!!” at around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Each side of the campaign had drawn observations over sources of funding. A group known as Citizens Against Forever Tax in the past week had financed mail pieces against the half cent tax proposal. Jeff Roe of Axiom Strategies served as consultant for the opposition.
"Arrogance and deceit won today over truth and fiscal sanity. The Greek God Hermes teaches us a valuable lesson we have learned again today,” Roe remarked.

“The four percent of registered voters who supported this tax have spoken,” Roe said Tuesday night.

Roe was referring to the fact that voter turnout was 8%, pointing out that the decision to spend an estimated $82 million was in essence made by about 4.2% of Platte County’s registered voters.

The listed treasurer for Citizens Against Forever Tax is Kenneth Reeder of St. Joseph. On its most recent filing with the Missouri Ethics Commission, the organization listed a $35,000 donation from TeamSam, Inc. of Chicago, Ill., though it is not clear how much money the group was spending in opposition to the local sales tax election. Citizens Against Forever Tax has been known to work on campaigns in a variety of locations at the same time. Earlier this year, the organization successfully worked in opposition to a school levy election in St. Joseph.

Citizens Against Forever Tax is a continuing committee that files its paperwork electronically with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

“They don’t have to indicate involvement in a particular election, they just show expenses and income,” said Wendy Flanigan with the Platte County Board of Elections, adding that it would be impossible to tell how much the group had targeted to the Platte County park sales tax election.

There is no requirement for the continuing committee to have detailed how much it spent on the Platte County election, Flanigan explained.

For the proponents of the tax, a group known as Yes for Parks had received $9,750 in donations. All but one of the contributors listed a mailing address outside of Platte County.

Many of the Yes for Parks contributors were firms who have done business with the county in general and some with the parks department in particular. Contributors to Yes for Parks included:

Saint Luke’s Health Systems $500; Scott B. Dennis of Overland Park, Ks. $500; Oppenheimer & Company of New York $1,000; Hunt Midwest $1,000; White Goss Bowers, March, Schulte etc. law firm $1,000; Lutjen $500; North Star LLC $1,000; Patti Banks Associates $1,000; and Citizens Bank and Trust of Chillicothe $500; Transystems Corporation $1,000; Allan B. Cooksey of Shafer, Kline and Warren engineers $200; and Larkin Group $250.

The group also had $300 in contributions from people giving $100 or less.

Flanigan said the Yes for Parks group will have at least two ethics complaints lodged its direction after the election. Flanigan said Yes for Parks has been deemed late with its quarterly campaign list of finances and also with what is known as the 8-day in advance of election report.

Flanigan said both reports are deemed as late by election authorities because postmarks on the envelopes in which the reports eventually arrived could not be verified.

Platte County election authorities will make a report to the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) on the alleged violations after the election. What happens from there will be up to the MEC, Flanigan said.

The special election was held at a cost of nearly $60,000 to the county, election authorities said.