Blue Springs voters will decide Tuesday on a half cent sales tax increase to fund a new community center and park maintenance.
Some say the increase – Question 2 on the ballot – will benefit many areas of Blue Springs while others are opposed, citing it is one out of several tax increases that may seem innocuous at first, but will greatly affect the taxpayer in the future.
If passed, it would raise the Blue Springs sales tax rate of 7.976 percent to 8.475 percent and raise $3 million annually. Two-thirds of the tax will fund the construction of an 85,000-square-foot community center that will be located behind the Adams Dairy Landing Shopping Center near the intersection of Adams Dairy Parkway and R.D. Mize Road, while the remaining $1 million will pay for the improvement and maintenance of all Blue Springs parks, according to Blue Springs Parks and Recreation Director Dennis Dovel.
The proposed community center would feature several amenities, according to the Yes to Blue Springs Parks campaign. Some of these include an indoor aquatics center, basketball and volleyball courts, performing arts stage, group exercise, teen center and outdoor amphitheater.
The estimated cost of building the community center in 2015 construction dollars, according to Dovel, would be $35 million.
“(But) it doesn’t mean it will cost that,” Dovel said before adding that it is “realistic” and that the city will “not have to ask taxpayers for another increase.”
In November 2012, the Blue Springs City Council and the Park Commission conducted a feasibility study for a new community center. Along with the study, the Park Commission assigned staff to perform a comprehensive audit of all Blue Springs parks. The Park Commission’s staff reviewed the condition of not only parks, but playgrounds, shelters, ball fields, trails and equipment within public space. The audit revealed that more than $15 million would be needed to address repairs and other issues in the park system.
Citizens for Quality Parks and Healthy Lifestyles say of the top 20 Missouri communities by population, Blue Springs and Wildwood, a St. Louis suburba, are the only cities that have no dedicated funding for parks.
“We don’t have the funds to replace vandalized product,” Dovel said.
He says vandalism is one of many factors the tax is needed.
“Shelters at Pink Hill Park will be repaired,” Dovel added. “Improvement of the tennis courts at Baumgardner Park. There are over 15 miles of trails that need to be addressed annually.”
Dovel says that if Question 2 is approved, the first three to five years of additional tax revenue will be prioritized for improving and repairing existing parks. After that, the revenue will used to develop a fund for future parks on the 200 acres of undeveloped park land the city of Blue Springs currently owns.
“It’s really a mix on how you look at things,” Dovel said regarding what other areas and programs the remaining $1 million in tax funds will be allocated to if the measure passes.
Dovel mentions there would many other programs and services that will receive support from the tax. He said approximately $150,000 will be allocated to improve the senior center at Vesper Hall and expand transportation services for senior citizens from the current two days a week to four.
“This (Question 2) will enable us to provide a more balanced service for our senior citizens that includes meals and socialization programs,” he said.
Dovel also says the rest of the remaining funds will be divided toward the maintenance and preservation of local artwork, visual and performing art programs, annual scholarship assistance programs for all residents, and children’s programs, such as swimming lessons.
The tax is planned as a perpetual tax with no sunset clause.
“Needs will have to be continually addressed,” Dovel said. “Over 78 percent of all communities with this sort of tax increase do not sunset. City works or the street department do not cover repair costs. Those needs are not going to go away. This increase will prevent (having) to run campaigns in the future to ask for more funding, and campaigns cost more money.”
Some believe that tax increases like these will harm citizens down the road, however.
Americans for Prosperity representatives in Missouri oppose the tax. AFP is a national policy group that has a stated mission is to cut taxes and government spending.
Patrick Werner, State Director of AFP in Missouri, said in a news release “Our elected officials continue to draw from the taxpayer well over and over to pay for their poor planning. It’s safe to say the taxpayer well is going dry.”
Werner points out that Missourians, especially those in Jackson County, are constantly being burdened by paying more on the federal, state and local level. “All these tax increases add up and have an impact on people’s pocketbooks individually, but also on the overall health of the economy from a state perspective.”
Some Blue Springs citizens also raised concern about the $2 million in tax revenue toward the community center construction project. They question how much of the revenue goes toward the interest on the $35 million community center construction loans if approved by voters. Dovel replied, “That is undetermined as the bond rate will dictate the amount as well as the actual construction cost. It is difficult to say at the moment, but we are currently anticipating a 3 to 3.5 percent interest rate.”