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Major issues on the ballot: state parks-and-soils tax and Columbia electricity bond

Sunday, August 6, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:53 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Amendment 1

Missouri voters will decide on Tuesday whether they want to continue paying a one-tenth-cent parks-and-soils tax that’s been in place since 1984 to support state parks, historic sites and efforts to slow soil erosion.

The issue appears on the ballot as Amendment 1.

If voters approve the amendment, the tax would remain in effect for another 10 years. If they don’t, it will end in November 2008.

The sales tax generates roughly $82 million a year, half of which is given to state parks.

The other half goes to soil conservation and clean water programs.

The tax covers about 75 percent of park maintenance costs and almost all of soil and water conservation costs on agricultural land.

Also covered under the state parks side of the tax are historic sites.

Of the 83 parks and historic parks in Missouri, Boone County is home to three state parks: Rock Bridge Memorial, Finger Lakes and a section of the Katy Trail; and one historic site, William Jewell Cemetery.

The sales tax has paid for projects such as the resurfacing of the Katy Trail, shelters and picnic areas in the other local parks.

The sales tax pays for soil- and water-conservation projects, such as building terraces and sod waterways, that landowners do on their own land in an effort to reduce the flow of sediment into streams.

Before the tax was approved, Missouri’s soil erosion rate was the second highest in the nation.

But the state has since cut erosion in half.

The rate of erosion in Missouri is declining faster than in any other state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Proponents of the statewide tax that generates about $82 million per year say it’s crucial to two of Missouri’s largest industries: tourism and agriculture.

If we didn’t pay the extra penny on every $100 we spent, they say, our state parks would be in disarray and the soil that makes farms productive would simply wash away and pollute streams and rivers.

Opponents call the tax regressive.

Tuesday marks the fourth time voters have weighed in on the tax. In 1988, about 69 percent of voters chose to extend it. In 1996, 67 percent approved.

— Lynsea Garrison

Proposition 1

City officials are asking voters to approve a $60 million bond issue for the electric utility that would pay for improvements, maintenance and expansion of the city’s electric distribution system.

The last electric bond issue was approved by voters in 1999 and the city stretched those funds until 2004.

Now, the city is trying to come up with funding to make improvements to the system that are necessary to comply with federal standards.

If the bond issue passes, residents will see 1 percent rate increases in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

That amounts to about 60 cents per month in each of the four years, or about $28.90 per year when it’s all said and done.

If voters defeat the bond issue, Water and Light Director Dan Dasho predicts customers could see a rate hike of at least 12 percent next year alone.

Water and Light has provided a list of project categories in which it would spend the money if voters approve the proposition.

It shows $6.3 million for distribution transformers and capacitors, $9.85 million for upgrading the distribution system, $1 million for street lights, $2.65 million for electric connections, $2 million for distributed generation, $3 million for a generator at the landfill that would use methane gas to produce power, $12.45 million for transmission system improvements, $5.9 million for substation feeders, and $9.25 million for developing residential and commercial infrastructure.

The city has budgeted another $2.59 million for contingency and $5 million to cover reserve requirements and the cost of issuing the bonds.

On the ballot, the measure appears as Proposition 1.

— Lucinda Housley


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