Two-thirds of voters reject tax for Boone County fairground, parks

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 | 11:45 p.m. CDT; updated 2:13 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Bondi Wood, right, co-chair of the EPIC Visionary Committee of Boone County, talks to Janet Thompson, the Northern District commissioner, at Bleu during a Proposition Epic watch party Tuesday. The proposition, which voters rejected, would have implemented a one-eighth-cent sales tax within the county for six years.

COLUMBIA — Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed county parks sales tax that would have largely benefited the Central Missouri Events Center. The proposition failed 66 percent to 34 percent, nearly 2-1.

Opponents of the proposal have termed it a bailout for the home of the Boone County Fair. Although the proposal promised to generate between $2 million and $3 million a year for county parks and the events center, with the proposal's defeat, the events center will likely be shuttered.

BALLOT LANGUAGE: "Shall Boone County, Missouri, impose a new county-wide sales tax at a rate of one-eighth of one percent for the purposes of providing funding for parks, recreation, and economic development, including the Central Missouri Events Center at the Boone County Fairgrounds, to include the acquisition, improvement, construction, and equipping of facilities for said purposes and operating the same? The authorization for this sales tax shall expire on December 31, 2020."

REACTION: Steve Spellman, who has actively campaigned against the proposal, said he was surprised by the outcome but glad.

"This is not the solution, and the voters have spoken," Spellman said. "This isn't good governance — providing a bailout for a decade and a half of mismanagement."

Bondi Wood, co-chair of the EPIC Visionary Committee of Boone County, spearheaded the campaign for the tax. She said she was saddened by the outcome. But, she added, "the good news is that it's a democratic process and the voters have spoken."

Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson said the tax could have ensured a high level of parks and recreation resources for the whole county that many in Columbia take "almost for granted."

The tax had heavy support from county leaders, but that didn't seem to help its success. All three Boone County commissioners were members of the EPIC committee, with Karen M. Miller serving as the group's deputy treasurer.

WHAT'S NEXT: Now that the proposal has been defeated, the future of the fairgrounds is clear: "It will be shuttered," Thompson said.

The center has been run by Tag Events since 2011, but once the county's contract with the company expires in December, all scheduled events will have to find a new venue and the center will no longer remain open. The county has no further plans for the center at this time, Thompson said.

Wood also said that no one has expressed interest in picking up the contract after TAG's expires.

"The future of the (events center) has been in limbo for so long that events aren't coming. ... That contributes to people not wanting to pick up a contract," Wood said. "For a new company to come in, there would be a long re-up period."

Wood said the future of the Boone County Fair may be less bleak.

"The fair could still use the property, but the facility would not technically be open ... There probably wouldn't be electricity or running water," Wood said.

This means if the fair wants to remain at the events center, then it will have to be a more "traditional" fair, Wood said, because the arena and many of the buildings will be closed.

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