It was no surprise that “park” was the word most used to describe a favorite place to go in Columbia by residents that participated in the public input process for Columbia Imagined — The Plan for How We Live & Grow. When you think about it, Columbia doesn’t have mountains, an ocean beach, a marina, a major water or theme park or a pro sports team. Perhaps that’s why our park system is so special to us and why 92 percent of Columbia households use our parks.
On Tuesday, , Columbia citizens will decide whether or not to renew the one-eighth-cent park sales tax for six more years. The park sales tax is the major funding source used to maintain our park system. I hope Columbians will reflect on the importance our local parks play in our lives and how they significantly impact our community image.
Our local parks are used for weddings, company picnics, nonprofit fundraisers and family reunions. They are the center of many of our community festivals. Can you imagine Columbia without our parks? The majority of families do not have swings and playgrounds in their back yards. Without public parks, many that live in multiple family dwellings would not have access to open green space to throw a football or Frisbee. Many would have no place to fish, skateboard or play tennis. Some have no opportunity to take a walk in nature other than in a park or on a trail. Let’s not take our park system for granted.
Working almost 40 years as a teacher and coach for Columbia Public Schools, I have learned that sports and other forms of active leisure are good for young people. It helps them develop social skills, connect with their peers, learn teamwork and work toward a common goal. I observed that many of our young people do not have ideal home lives. Physical activity is a positive way for them to work out their frustrations, but they need places to go and recreation facilities in which to play their favorite sport or activity.
I also know that in this economy, agencies have to use their limited resources wisely. That is why I am impressed with the partnership between Columbia Public Schools and Columbia Parks and Recreation. They pool their resources together to share facilities, such as school property, gymnasiums, parking lots, tennis courts and playgrounds. This prevents duplication of efforts and saves taxpayer dollars. And, our young people reap the benefits. In the proposed budget for the 2015 park sales tax ballot, there is funding set aside to continue this wise partnership, but only if voters approve the extension.
I am also impressed with the transparency of Columbia Parks and Recreation. After gathering input from the public, the department developed a list of projects and a budget for the intended use of the funds that would be generated by the extension of the one-eighth-cent park sales tax. Then it submitted that budget and list of projects to be officially adopted by the City Council, so that taxpayers would know exactly how the funds will be used. The department keeps a list of the projects and the status of their progress posted on its website. In fact, all of the projects funded by the previous park sales tax in 2010 are either completed or underway. The department keeps its promises.
During the Columbia Imagined process, residents were asked, “What should be preserved in and around Columbia?” Can you guess what citizens chose as their top priorities? The report said, “The city park system, the trail system, downtown vibrancy, and aspects of the natural environment (aggregated mentions) were most frequently described as needing preservation.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope my fellow citizens realize that it does take funding to preserve our park and trail system. And wisely, the largest portion of the approved budget for the 2015 park sales tax ballot is to maintain our existing park facilities. Let’s make sure we provide the funding needed to take care of the park system that is so much a part of our lives and community image. Join me in voting “yes” to renew the one-eighth-cent park sales tax.
Facts about the park sales tax and a list of proposed projects can be found online at www.gocolumbiamo.com by searching “park sales tax.”
Dan Devine is a Columbia resident and parks and recreation commissioner representing the First Ward.