COLUMBIA — A six-year extension of a one-eighth-cent sales tax for parks was getting widespread support among voters who spoke with the Missourian at polling places around the city Tuesday morning.

The tax was the only issue on the Columbia ballot. If approved, it would generate $18.4 million over the next six years and pay for new park land and the development of dozens of parks. The Parks and Recreation Department has posted a full list of proposed projects on its website.

Voter turnout was at a trickle. At Paquin Tower downtown, 45 people had cast ballots by 10:50 a.m., nearly five hours after the polls opened at 6 a.m. Sixty-eight people had voted at Parkade Baptist Church in the Second Ward by 10 a.m.

Pam Spencer said on her way into Parkade Baptist that she intended to vote yes on the tax. She said that her family frequently uses city parks and that they're good for the environment and for people's health. Parks, she said, are important because all kinds of people use them. Still, she acknowledged the downside of sales taxes.

"One reason people don’t like (the park sales tax) is because it’s a sales tax, which is regressive and puts a bigger burden on poor people than people with a fixed income," Spencer said.

Paul Klick also cast his ballot at the Parkade church and said he tries to vote in every election. "I’m a supporter (of the parks)…. The facilities are incomparable for a local park system, and we want to keep them going."

Tony and Jen Chirillo went to the Parkade polling place together. "We use the parks a lot," Tony Chirillo said. "We think it’s a gold feature for Columbia and kind of sets the standard for parks in Missouri."

Al and Cathy Illingworth took the opposite view, however. "We’re sick and tired of all these silly little parks," Al Illingworth said. "We don’t need 100 parks in this town."

At Paquin Tower, resident Max Lewis favored the tax, saying it could increase property values and the community's well-being.

"Every time we get a chance to enhance our community just a little bit more, it makes happier citizens, a more aesthetic city and makes healthier people," Lewis said.

Richard Shanker, a member of the city's Building Codes Commission and the Solid Waste Advocacy Group, called the tax "a touchy subject." Shanker, who lives near Cliff Drive Park, said he likes parks but doesn't think the city has been responsive to some residents.

Sue Scott, who voted at Woodcrest Chapel on Nifong Boulevard in the Fifth Ward, said it's important to participate in elections.

"I just think we should all take advantage of the opportunity to vote. People have lost their lives for this privilege, so I never miss a voting day," Scott said. "I'm supportive of the tax. I feel like we're tearing down our green space, and those parks are used by young families and older people. They're part of nature, and I'm supportive of that."

Douglas Miller also voted at Woodcrest. He said parks are an amenity the city needs and noted that the tax is nothing new.

At Columbia Public Library, frequent trail user Kerby Meller said he supported the tax for several reasons. Some parks provide playgrounds for children, he said, while others conserve natural spaces and "keep them safe from the awful developers."

Meller also noted that some of the tax proceeds could be used to help build a shelter for the Columbia Farmers Market.

Teresa Maledy, who also voted at the library Tuesday morning, said she has children who are 4, 6 and 7 years old and enjoy playing at Cosmo Park. The park's playground was renovated with money from the last extension of the parks tax, which was approved in 2010. 

She said the playground is safe and helps her children develop their imaginations.

"I think it is a smart way to designate funds for the park systems and recreation,” Maledy said of the tax. "I think that is very valuable for the quality of life in Columbia, and I think it helps to retain and attract businesses."

Some voters complained that there was only one issue on the ballot. David Goldstein said at the library that he didn't understand why the city would have an expensive election on just one issue.

John Naumann agreed. "I am for the parks tax, but I do wish that they would bundle more issues than one."

Polls will remain open until 7 p.m. Those who want to cast ballots must bring a valid ID to their polling place, and those who have moved since the last election must file a change of address.

Polling place and other information about how to participate in the election is available on the website of the Boone County clerk.

Missourian reporters Sean Na, William Schmitt, Anne Marie Hankins, Elaina Steingard, Thomas Friestad and Ellen Cagle contributed to this story.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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