COLUMBIA — A sales tax funding park improvements will expire early next year, unless voters approve an extension of it during the Nov. 2 election.
Before that happens, the City Council must vote for the issue to go on the ballot. The vote is scheduled for the Aug. 16 council meeting. The official public hearing for the issue is scheduled for the Aug. 2 meeting, but people should be able to comment at either time.
The 1/8-cent sales tax is citywide and voters first passed it in 2000. They also approved an extension in 2005. This next extension, expected to be another five years, would raise about $12 million for the Parks and Recreation Department.
“For building major improvements to the park system, its our primary funding source,” Director Mike Hood said.
This tax began as a way to preserve Stephens Lake Park.
The department plans to use the sales tax for a variety of things. Although this plan is still in the draft form, there are four major areas getting funds from the program, along with a five percent cushion fund for unexpected costs.
- Improvements and renovations for existing parks and facilities ($4,990,000)
- Trail development and improvements ($2,070,000)
- New facility and park development ($2,540,000)
- Acquiring and preserving land ($1,800,000)
- A five percent contingency fund ($600,000)
A further breakdown of the plan can be seen here. Mayor Bob McDavid said the plan for the funds needs to be specific.
"The City Council has to be sure citizens have confidence in our fiscal ability to run this town," he said.
During a work session Monday night, the council discussed land acquisition and preservation, which Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said was one part of a larger picture.
Hood introduced a potential scoring system during the work session to help identify what areas should be chosen for preservation. He stressed the scoring system was only in the earliest stages.
The system could use various criteria to decide which pieces of land have priority over others:
- Any unique natural features, such as wildlife and bodies of water
- Area's location in relation to the city — areas close or in Columbia might have a higher priority
- Likelihood the land will be developed in the near future
- Chance the city has to buy a piece of property
- Potential benefits from preserving the land
Hood said he’s optimistic voters will approve the ballot initiative.
“It’s always up to the voters, but we’ve been very pleased with the support they’ve shown and we hope that continues.”