Columbia City Council discusses results of citizen survey about land preservation

Monday, June 7, 2010 | 10:47 p.m. CDT; updated 8:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 8, 2010

*This article has been modified to correct the name of Columbia Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia City Council is talking about how to spend revenue that a parks and recreation sales tax could, if renewed this year, hypothetically bring into the budget.

The discussion took place at the pre-council meeting Monday night.

The park sales tax of one-eighth cent, passed in 2005, is up for renewal this year and could be on the November ballot.

A proposed budget put together by parks and recreation staff was presented by Mike Hood,* head of Columbia Parks and Recreation.

The staff proposed a 9 percent allocation of funds for land purchase and preservation.

At the council’s annual retreat in Lake Ozark on Friday, Ron Vine of the ETC Institute, a market research firm, presented the findings of a $15,000 public survey about Parks and Recreation facilities and programs which said 21 percent of the park sales tax revenue should be dedicated to preservation of land.

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said the survey said “loud and clear” that people want a fair amount of money put toward land preservation.

“We should rely on that survey,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said.

The council needs to identify areas in the city with natural features that should be preserved, she said.

Sturtz pointed out that the number proposed by parks and recreation is less than half of the 21 percent that was recommended by the survey results.

Sturtz suggested the council reserve 18 percent of the tax revenue or about $2 million for land acquisition and preservation.

He said the proposal for using the revenue should be better aligned with the survey results "not only to get this thing passed, but to do what people want."

Putting aside money specifically to preserve land, Sturtz said, would increase the likelihood of renewal for the park sales tax.

The survey shows older people are particularly concerned about land being developed too intensively, he said.

The risk in giving a higher percentage of funding to land preservation, said Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill, is that the city may be forced to buy land just to buy it, and it cannot be sure what will be for sale.

Hood's* remarks concurred with Thornhill's concerns. He said breaking funding into smaller categories to specifically fund land preservation means the council is committed to meeting those goals.

Funding for five neighborhood parks is also in the proposal Hood* presented to the council.

The city already owns three undeveloped sites on the west side of Columbia that could be used for the parks, he said.

Council members also discussed the duration of the tax that could be presented to voters on the November ballot.

A five-year tax could yield $12 million and a 10-year tax could yield approximately $24 million, Hood* said, though he noted that the Finance Department has concerns about projecting revenue that far in the future.

Third Ward Councilman Gary Kesphol said the council should favor a five-year park sales tax because of the better support it could receive from voters.

If the tax doesn’t pass in November, the Parks Department would have about $2.3 million less in funding, Hood* said.

He said if that happens, improvements would have to stop or the department would have to seek other sources of funding.

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