Council candidates weigh in on parks, funding

Renewal of parks sales tax in 2010 might be a tough sell, some say
Sunday, March 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — When it comes to Columbia's parks, City Council candidates say it's all about the green.

Candidates for Columbia's two contested City Council seats have promised to look closely at the Parks and Recreation Department when considering how best to deal with projected budget shortfalls.

Second Ward candidate Allan Sharrock said he would not support renewal of the quarter-cent parks sales tax in 2010.

"Most residents I've talked to are more receptive to public safety, even infrastructure, above parks and trails," Sharrock said. "In these tough times we shouldn't be using city tax revenues for the nice-to-haves."

Sixth Ward candidate Rod Robison said the city will have to take a close look at trail funding, but he thinks it's too early to make any decisions.

"I'm getting a sense from people that enough is enough, like we've met the saturation point of marking streets and stuff like that," Robison said.

Second Ward candidate Jason Thornhill said the city should divert resources from the creation of new parks and instead focus on "maintaining the ones we have."

Sixth Ward candidate Barbara Hoppe emphasized the importance of parks and green space. She said she values the green space in Columbia and even helped lead the effort to save Stephens Lake Park when Stephens College put it up for sale.

Toby Bartman, who was outside Saturday watching her son Zachary, 8, play in her northwest Columbia neighborhood, said the green space is one of the reasons she stayed in town.

"The more green space we can protect today, the better we're all going to be tomorrow," Bartman said. She said the acquisition of new parkland is "a great use of our city resources."

"We should take full advantage of the downturn in real estate right now to continue to build a greener Columbia," Bartman said. "There's always going to be budget issues, but our natural resources need to be a priority for the future. If we don't spend the money to protect our natural resources for our children just because of budgetary issues, the future isn't that bright for them."

William Woods University cross country coach Brayce Forsha came to Cosmopolitan Park Saturday to push his two young children on the swings. Forsha said he opposes cutting the park budget but thinks the city should be careful about expanding parkland amid budget shortfalls.

"It seems like physical activity's always the first thing that gets cut," Forsha said. "I think the parks are one of the best things about Columbia."

Information technology worker Phillip Christensen, 22, praised the city's park system but said funding might need to be cut.

"With the economic times we're in right now, it's debatable whether we should focus as many resources on them (parks) as we have been," Christensen said.

The Second Ward resident said that while he would vote to renew the park sales tax, he agreed with both Sharrock and Thornhill that "it's going to be hard to renew that sales tax if the economy doesn't get better."

Thornhill said that, as a frequent park user, he would vote for the sales tax. However, he feels the city would have to prove the tax is providing residents with concrete benefits.

Hoppe, who co-chaired the committee that promoted the original park sales tax, said the community has been "very supportive." She said she would support putting the tax back on the ballot for renewal.

Robison, Hoppe's opponent, said he's open to letting voters decide whether to renew the tax, too.

"Columbia is pretty serious about their parks and trails," Robison said. "I would be in favor of at least putting it back up to a vote."

"I'm seeing people on the trail, people enjoying the trail," Robison said. "That's what I see: people really enjoying those areas like I do."

Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood did not return calls on Friday and said he had no time over the weekend to discuss the impact of the candidates' views upon his department's work.

Candidates praised the progress of GetAbout Columbia, which is putting $22 million in federal grant money to work on projects intended to promote walking and bicycling. They proposed no major changes to GetAbout priorities.

The project has "done a lot to increase the capacity for walkers, runners, bikers and the disabled," Sharrock said. "I understand frustrations with not getting more done, but that's just the cost of doing business with the government."

Thornhill said he worries about projects coming in over budget, but that he is satisfied with the progress.

Hoppe said that GetAbout needs to use money in a "wise, cost-effective way" and that it would save the city money in the long run.

"In terms of infrastructure, $22 million is really a small amount of money," Hoppe said. "It's really an investment in terms of transportation. The more people we get off the roads and using alternative transportation, the less you have to pay for road resurfacing and maintenance."

Missourian reporter Pat Sweet also contributed to this story.


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Charles Dudley Jr March 15, 2009 | 12:40 p.m.

Vote no on future parks and vote yes on all emergency services measures.

The life or lives you vote to save could be yours,your families or your neighbors.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 15, 2009 | 8:15 p.m.

Our city leaders should close down Mike Hood's department for 5 years and catch up on everything else.
What good is being a land baron if you can't take care of the vital services which truly impact the quality of our lives.
We all can survive without Mike Hoods department, have volunteers and alternative sources pick up some of the slack and might be surprised at a stronger, well-served Columbia as a result of this venture.

(Report Comment)
Jason Entermyer March 16, 2009 | 9:25 a.m.

Ray Shapiro: your 8:15 pm comment has to be the most irresponsible comment of all time (notice I didn't say idiotic but I was thinking it). This is a quality of life issue which helps bring and keep businesses in Columbia. Look at the State Farm decision to maintain an office here in Columbia and close others. Main reason: quality of life here in Columbia. Can the parks cut back? Sure, slow down and then when things improve pick back up. We need them to keep Columbia on top of the best places to live. You can always move to a small town and take your turn mowing the parks, but it can't happen here. It's too costly for all of us.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr March 16, 2009 | 11:36 a.m.

Jason Entermyer before you think about these parks you so love you better be thinking how to keep the citizens safe from the crime that permeates this entire city.

Parks do not keep citizens safe but police officers do.

Think about it.

Vote no on future parks and vote yes on all emergency services measures.

The life or lives you vote to save could be yours,your families or your neighbors.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro March 16, 2009 | 12:48 p.m.

From an article about State Farm and their love of parks: "...the Columbia Board of Realtors CEO said, “... and I can tell you there’s more to life than warm weather and palm trees...”
What's that, Parks with some trees?
Don't confuse business decisions with salesmanship and company P.R. to make it easier on 200 transplanted State Farm employees forced to relocate to a sleepy, bicycle loving, tree-hugging, pot smoking, gang invested town that's 20 years behind the times.
And, while you may think that my suggestion, that our city get out of the Parks and land purchase business for awhile, may be idiotic, what if our Churches and the private sector were able to pick up the slack by mobilizing people and resources to maintain these properties? Do you think our parks would vanish under mounds of goose poop? Do you think bathrooms would become uninhabitable? Do you think our Garden Coalition couldn't recruit grounds keepers? Would every Park have to seal up their entrances? Would Park users not contribute their time and abilities to maintain the very parks they enjoy jogging through? Would no parent be wiling to grease their kid's sliding pond?
I recall our postings on this issue...
ray shapiro January 6, 2009
Dear Jason E.
I never believe everything the boss tells me. Do you? Ever consider this...
(Source: Local Monroe, Louisiana blog)
Louisiana History
Monroe isn't the first to be hit. Louisiana has a tax structure that is extememly business unfriendly and has been driving companies out in droves. The breaks they attempted to give would be a drop in the bucket to what they had extorted from State Farm up to that point. What Louisiana needs to do is decide whether to have a large tax base at low rates or a small base at high rates. Until then that sound you hear is company after company fleeing the oppression to friendlier states.
(Friendlier just might mean less corrupt than Louisiana! Missouri qualifies, considering that State Farm was already here.)
And also,
Subject: State Farm
Posted On: February 5, 2004, 12:38 pm CST
Posted By: Fred the Agent
Once again a company choosing profits over people.
(What were the many reasons State Farm's employee moral officer gave to its workers via the in-house newsletter?
We're staying in Columbia because we like the squirrels and that its a more bicycle friendly town than Monroe, Louisiana?
Maybe your company considered the bottom line, the all mighty buck for its stockholders, PROFITS, and sold its employees a bill of goods concerning how pretty our parks are...
(There's a price to pay for all those pretty parks, and it's not all financial.)
It's also good to see this town finally trying to come to terms with an issue some of us "idiots" have been spouting about for almost a decade.)

(Report Comment)

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