Panel aims to clear confusion, drum up support for county parks tax

Monday, July 21, 2014 | 9:52 p.m. CDT; updated 6:52 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

COLUMBIA — Proponents of a proposed county parks sales tax aimed Monday to increase transparency and clear up misunderstandings about the plan.

The 28-member EPIC Visionary Committee of Boone County spoke at a news conference Monday at Stoney Creek Inn about Proposition EPIC. The proposal, a countywide one-eight-cent sales tax designed to fund improvements to county parks and the Central Missouri Events Center, will appear on the Aug. 5 ballot.

"This is a small investment for EPIC returns," committee co-chair Bondi Wood said, stating the tax's tagline as she opened the meeting.

The EPIC — economic, parks and investment in community — committee includes members of county government, representatives of various municipalities and community liaisons.

Janet Thompson, Boone County District 2 commissioner and ad hoc member of the EPIC committee, said the main misconception about the tax was that only 18 percent of the money would go toward parks, which came from "a fundamental misunderstanding of the word parks."

Thompson said that once the portion of money allocated to the Atkins Tract, which is located by the events center and is considered to be a parks project by the county, is included in calculations, then roughly 50 percent of the money raised by the tax will be going toward parks.

"The goal is to develop the CMEC land as a premiere park," Thomson said.

Wood, who was on the events center task force, said that the public was nearly "unanimous in its support of development and retention of the CMEC" and that the proposition would provide a transparent and accountable way to ensure that the needed developments happen.

Supporters from four Boone County communities — Hallsville, Centralia, Harrisburg and Rocheport — attended the conference.

Conrad Yates, a representative of Rocheport and a city alderman, said parks systems are important in small towns because they can attract visitors and help towns such as Rocheport increase revenue, which ultimately helps the whole county.

Kerri McBee-Black, who spoke on behalf of Harrisburg supporters, said there's a lack of public parks in her town and the public could benefit from improvements and expansions to parks and recreation resources, which would be funded by the tax.

"We have one ... what you would call a park ... we have two sets of swings that are run by the Lions Club. That's what's open to the community," she said. "We want attention and recognition like Columbia."

Don Bormann, a Centralia alderman, said his city already has funding for parks from other taxes but could use money from this tax for larger projects.

"Even if we get no dollars off of this, I hope it passes because many towns don't have resources," he said.

How it would work

The one-eighth-cent sales tax is expected to generate $2 million to $3 million a year over its proposed six-year lifespan and could generate roughly $18 million by the time it would expire in 2020, according to material provided at the conference. This works out to roughly 25 cents per every $200 spent in the county over the next six years.

The proposal has three distinct goals, according to a handout provided by the committee:

  • "Improving the CMEC and planning and building out the remaining land for recreation. Public input and a hired master planner will drive the future use of the buildout."
  • "Distrubuting funds to Boone County communities for hometown recreation/park projects"
  • "Using funds for economic opportunities in Boone County communities as they arise."

The committee didn't provide specifics on what needs to be done at the events center to bring it up to the level that they desire and to make it self-sustaining. The committee did not have any specific "economic opportunities" in mind but referenced past examples such as when the county provided money to MoDOT to improve Route Z in order to increase the accessibility to Battle High School.

"It would be based on need as it arises," treasurer Dave Griggs said. "It gives the county flexibility to pool money."

The tax would need to be renewed after 2020 if it were not successful enough to make the events center sustainable.

The proposition would require a lot of work. It calls for the hiring of a professional, outside project manager, the drawing of a master plan, the creation of at least one oversight body, and the construction of an unknown number of projects. All of the projects would need to be complete by the sunset of the tax in 2020 to ensure a self-sustaining event center.

"It's better to say, 'Let us prove what we can do,'" Thompson said.

Griggs said the sunset is designed to give voters "confidence that they can pull the plug" if the county is not successful or the tax does not work.

Where the money would go

The funds would be divided three ways. 

At least $500,000 a year would go into a countywide parks and recreation grant fund, according to the fact sheet passed out at the news conference. Cities and towns would prepare grant requests that they would submit to an oversight committee made up of county residents. The projects would be chosen based on merit, need and quality of application. The commission would create the oversight board and appoint the members.

The bulk of the money would go toward the improvement and maintenance of the events center.

A third portion would go toward the development of facilities on the Atkins Tract or "on the county grounds."

The committee supports the proposition because it believes it will provide benefits for years.

"If we're gonna have 200,000 people by 2020, we need the infrastructure to welcome those families," said Roger Wilson, chairman of the events center task force and member of the EPIC committee.

Supervising editor is Samuel Hardiman.

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dan elliott July 22, 2014 | 9:36 a.m.

the sales tax will take 3 million per year and put 2.5 million of the tax on the north side of Columbia...Columbia has a hotel tax and a parks tax and the county does not need to give more tax money to Columbia...and in case you did not know, the development of the Atkins Tract fails to mention the contemplated paying of the city of Columbia to operate the ball fields that are, Columbia will get an event center, an expanded sports area, and funding to run the both and a few crumbs will go elsewhere. i love the fairgrounds and beilieve the county needs to continue as is till the city takes it over and pays with the city tax dollars. i do not support county dollars for the city of Columbia.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz July 22, 2014 | 5:08 p.m.

If the citizens of Rocheport or Harrisburg want a park, work with your local government or volunteer organizations to raise funds and built one. Parks and fairgrounds are not a core task that county government should be involved in. If the county has to subsidize the fairgrounds, sell it and let someone else run it.

(Report Comment)

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