Columbia goes to the polls to vote on renewable park sales tax

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COLUMBIA – The people of Columbia will vote Tuesday on Proposition 1: whether the park sales tax will remain at one-fourth of one cent for the next six years or if it should be cut in half.

No matter the result, one-eighth of that one-fourth cent is permanent, and according to Columbia’s Parks and Recreation department, generates about three million dollars per year.

Department director Mike Griggs said the renewable portion of the tax will be important to improving other aspects of the city outside of its parks.

“It’ll help transportation,” Griggs said. “For example, for one of the projects, we’ll be working with public works to connect Stephens Lake Park to Clark Lane over by HyVee, Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart."

Political action committee Boone County For Liberty has spoken out against this renewal for weeks. The group’s treasurer Sean Reberry said the city should be allocating funds toward other city departments.

“You may have a new sports complex from this, but do you want your children living in a city with an underfunded fire department?” Reberry said. “Or an underfunded police department?”

Griggs acknowledged some of the opposition to the tax renewal, but said this resistance is coming from the minority.

“All these proposed projects the sales tax will go to were vetted by 2,000 citizen contacts through surveys,” Griggs said. “We had 58 user-group meetings, so these project ideas clearly came from the citizens."

The Parks and Recreation Department also said if the tax renewal does not pass, it would have a serious negative impact on the maintenance of current parks as well as new projects.

“People can’t just say, ‘Well I want this much to go to maintenance and only this much to go toward new projects’ because it’s not the time for that,” Griggs said. “It’s a yes-or-no decision on whether we want to maintain the parks we have and fund new projects or not.”

The proposition mentions that existing parks will receive “renovations and improvements,” but Reberry said the tax renewal mainly focuses on spending for new projects.

“I don’t see any mention of anything going toward maintenance,” Reberry said. “And we don’t believe we need more parks than we already have.”

“It’s a one-eighth cent,” Griggs said. “It’s the lowest we can ask for from the public on a tax, and from what we gathered from a third-party research group, the people want to keep it so we can continue sustaining the great parks we have.”

Voting on the ballot begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday and closes at 7 p.m. If the tax renewal does not pass, it will be reduced to a one-eighth cent total tax on March 31.