COLUMBIA — Vague language, a polarized political environment and touchy ballot issues might hamper the continuation of the city parks sales tax, Mayor Bob McDavid said Wednesday.
McDavid expressed his concern at a meeting with Boone County officials that morning.
On Nov. 2, Columbia voters will see this question on their ballots:
Shall the municipality of Columbia, Missouri impose a sales tax of one-eighth of one percent, for five (5) years, for the purpose of providing funding for local parks for the municipality?
The current one-fourth of one percent local parks sales tax is scheduled to be reduced to one-eighth of one percent on March 31, 2011. Approval of this proposition would keep the local parks sales tax rate at one-fourth of one percent for an additional five (5) years.
The City intends to use this sales tax to fund projects in the City’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan including renovations and improvements to existing parks, development of neighborhood and community parks, development of trails and greenbelts, and the acquisition of land for parks, trails, greenbelts and open space preservation.
"We want this to be a well-thought-out vote," he said. "This is about the gift we give to our children and grandchildren."
The gift refers to the City of Columbia's parks and trails, which are funded by a one-eighth cent sales tax. On Nov. 2, voters will decide whether to continue that sales tax, which was established in 2000 and renewed in 2005.
To combat possible misconceptions about the tax, the mayor created Friends of Columbia's Parks to promote the proposal. The committee's formation, which is co-chaired by former Mayor Mary Anne McCollum and Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Vicki Russell, was announced Sept. 8.
"We want people to know this is a continuation of a 10-year-old vote," McDavid said, explaining how the language on the ballot might confuse voters. "'Shall impose,'" he said, quoting the ballot. "It sounds harsh and heavy."
Committee member and former Mayor Darwin Hindman agreed.
"First of all, I think it's important that people know it's a renewal of current tax," he said.
He added that some voters might think the tax will fund projects by GetAbout Columbia, which builds bicycle and pedestrian projects through a federal grant.
"I think people see bicycle lanes and they think those are for recreation purposes when they're really for transportation purposes," Hindman said.
The local sales tax finances only Columbia parks, according to a news release. He added that about 14 percent of sales taxes are paid by visitors to the city.
"If we don't support the tax, we'll have to use money from the general fund," he said.
Hindman said parks play an important role in health, family relations and economic development.
"I think it's important for people to understand how important parks are to the community," he said. He emphasized that companies look at parks when they consider moving to an area.
At Wednesday's meeting, McDavid echoed that sentiment. He expressed hope that Columbia would be able to host regional sports tournaments with the addition of more soccer fields. He used the Show-Me State Games, which take place in the city, as an example of Columbia's potential.
Another facet of McDavid's concern is the effect other propositions might have on voters' decisions.
"Our proposition will be among some issues of contention," he said, referring to the proposal to ban Tasers in the city that is also on ballot.
"We have a polarized electorate," he said, indicating that voter negativity could cause the proposal's passage to fail.
"The hope is that through (Friends of Columbia's Parks') advocacy, the ballot issue passes successfully," said Toni Messina, City of Columbia Public Communications director. "They will also raise funds to conduct public education campaigns."
Hindman said Friends of Columbia's Parks would give presentations to different civic groups and be responsible for creating ads and brochures promoting the sales tax.
"We are assigned to go out and tell people and educate people about the benefits of parks," he said.