First, I want to say I support approval of the Platte County Commissioners plan to ask voter approval of a quarter cent sales tax for parks and stormwater. This, and a quarter cent sales tax for law enforcement will replace the current half cent sales tax for parks and stormwater, so there is no net increase in taxes.
However, the planning process the current commissioners used to reach this recommendation did not properly include what your, the taxpayer, desires and needs are after the current sales tax for parks and stormwater expires.
Compare their actions to those of the commissioners who were in office the last time the tax was placed before voters for approval. Well before the sales tax expired, Commissioners Betty Knight, Kathy Dusenberry, and Jim Plunkett carried out a planning process that included a thorough inventory of all park facilities and conditions, a citizen committee and a steering committee. They administered citizen surveys, formed 26 focus groups, held open houses, and solicited comments on the park department web page and newsletters. The final report, or master plan, was issued in May 2009, 18 months before the sales tax was scheduled to expire. Voters overwhelmingly approved extending the tax in August 2009.
Compare those actions with the ones taken by our current commissioners. They appointed an 11-member citizen committee in October 2019, barely a year before the sales tax expires (December 2020). These citizens were asked to review 10-year budgets for the park department, sheriff’s office, prosecutor’s office, and the court and then recommend how to split the half cent parks tax to fund these budgets. Their final report was presented on April 6, 2020.
That’s it. There were no citizen surveys, focus groups or open houses. Public comments were not even accepted at most of the meetings. There was no independent, outside analysis of the numbers provided in the budgets reviewed. The committee was not asked to carry out any of these activities, and frankly, there was not enough time to do so anyway.
I will say though, that the citizens committee for the new tax structure did a fantastic job with what they were charged with doing and with what they were provided to work with. I have no criticism of them and very much appreciate all the volunteer hours they put into this effort. I support their recommendation because it acknowledged that Platte County will need to further develop its park system and they recommended a sales tax that will accommodate modest growth.
Also, there have been major changes in our community since the 2009 planning effort that have warranted an update to the 2009 Master Plan. That plan assumed Platte County’s population would increase 20,000 by 2030. But by 2019, it had already increased by that amount. Recreational interests or residents have changed as well. For example, pickleball is a very popular recreational activity now and it was not considered or mentioned in the 2009 Master Plan. And the rapid population growth has increased the urgency to strategically protect open space from overdevelopment. Also, the 2009 plan recommended the commission study the feasibility of adding a third community center and this was not done. The 2009 Master Plan clearly should have been updated through a professional planning effort that included ample public input.
This was not an oversight of the commissioners. After discussing it for months, I formally pointed out the need for a planning update to the commissioners in January 2019 when they adopted the budget. They made the conscious decision to NOT determine what you, the public, wanted our park system to look like by 2030.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the awareness of the importance of our park facilities in Platte County. Our trails and open spaces provide the opportunity to safely get outside and engage in healthy activity. It is also true that use of the parks makes us healthier and better able to fight off illnesses like the one currently affecting the nation.
Despite the poor planning of the part of the commissioners, it is very important for voters to approve the park tax question. I strongly encourage them to do so.
–David Park, Kansas City in Platte County