Voters set to decide on park sales tax renewal

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COLUMBIA - Columbians will decide on whether or not to renew an eighth-cent sales tax to fund parks and trails on the Nov. 3 ballot.

If approved, the tax would raise about $18.4 million to maintain existing parks and trails, fund trail extensions, acquire new greenspace and build a new sports field house, city officials said.

The city has a permanent eighth-cent sales tax in place, but the other eighth of a cent is up for renewal, bringing the total to a .25 cent sales tax towards parks.

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Griggs said having good parks is a big advantage for Columbia.

"If a park system is well-maintained, then property values can actually go up about five to 22 percent," Griggs said.

The largest portion of the money, $8.28 million, would go to maintenance of existing parks and trails. In addition, $2.63 million would go to land acquisition for potential future development. New development of facilities would cost an estimated $3.22 million.

One Columbia mother said she loves being able to use the variety of nearby parks with her children.

"I just think having a place where they can run and play and be free outside is awesome," Amanda Dablemont said.

However, some disapprove of the proposed tax renewal.

Boone County for Liberty Treasurer Sean Rebbery said, "It's a good thing to increase home values and increase the value of the city, but the very people who are burdened the most by a sales tax can't even afford homes in the first place."

Boone County for Liberty is a political organization made up of citizens in Columbia that said it finds parks to be a luxury and would rather see city officials focus on other issues.

"Streets are something that everybody uses, everyone benefits from, I would argue, to a greater degree than parks," Rebbery said. "Both the fire and police pensions are underfunded. The fire department is still asking for more."

However, Third Ward council member Karl Skala said the city is working to improve all aspects including parks, streets and other projects.

"In terms of economic development, it certainly is an attractive proposition." Skala said. "Part of the retention piece that is very critical is this business about having satisfied employees in terms of where they live, work, raise their children and go to school. Parks are a critical to that."

Fifth Ward council member Laura Nauser said she agrees parks are a big piece of making Columbia an attractive place to live. However, she said she understands concerns about wanting to make sure the city doesn't focus too much attention on just parks and trails.

"As we continue to grow, is the park sales tax going to be sufficient funding? Because we are already adding to the parks system, but we also subsidize it through general revenue." Nauser said. " As that system continue to grow, we have to ask ourselves, how much are we going to subsidize?"

Nauser, Skala and Griggs said maintaining the current system is the most important aspect of this proposal, which is why maintenance would receive the largest portion of funds.