By Brandon Dumsky
The Blue Springs Parks Commission proposed placing another half-cent sales increase for park maintenance and a new community center on the upcoming April ballot during Monday's City Council meeting. However, this time there will be a few key changes made to the proposal compared to the question that was proposed last November.
Monday's meeting was merely a discussion and no formal action in placing the tax increase question on the ballot took place.
Parks Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Splittorff presented an amended plan to the council that would raise funding for the city's dilapidated parks and the reported demand for a new community center. The most prominent change presented was that the sales tax increase would sunset in 30 years instead of being in perpetuity as it was when previously asked in November. Splittorff said the Commission met on Nov. 18 to discuss options on how to raise park maintenance funding since Question 2 failed. She said they unanimously agreed to try placing the question on the April ballot, with the refinements.
"If we do not provide additional funding for the parks, the costs will continue to grow," Splittorff told the council on Monday. If the question were to pass on April 8, the Commission anticipated the sales tax increase would still bring $3 million in annual revenue. Splittorff said the first five years would be prioritized to fund deferred park maintenance while the next five years would be used to develop parks on city-owned land. Other programs the tax increase would fund, if passed, would be senior services, fine and visual arts such as the city theater, scholarship offerings and a new community center.
The community center issue of the question remains intact. However, the size and cost of the proposed building would be reduced in order to accommodate the 30-year sunset.
"The revised plan for the proposed community center will be reduced to 74,000 square feet and the estimated cost is now to be $28 million," said Splitorrff.
If the Commission's second attempt in asking Blue Springs residents for the half-cent sales tax increase passes in April, Splitorrff said the city should expect the construction of the new community center at the originally proposed site off of Adams Dairy Parkway either in February or March of next year, followed by a 2016 opening.
A few council members expressed some concerns on the second tax increase proposal, but Mayor Carson Ross and others seemed to welcome the proposed ballot issue with open arms.
"People in Lee's Summit already have four community centers and a dedicated sales tax for parks," said Ross. "People who shop in Blue Springs will support an amenity they'll enjoy. I applaud the Parks Commission for bringing this to consideration. This question became a victim of other issues on the November ballot."
"I've talked to a group of constituents who are usually anti-tax one time at lunch," said Councilman Jeff Quibell, "but they want Vesper Hall improvements, especially a new community center."
Meanwhile a few council members seemed skeptical about the second attempt in trying to raise money for Blue Springs parks.
"My fear is that I am going to see it on the April ballot, and it will fail again," said Councilman Chris Lievsay. "I hope they (Parks Commission) will become more creative with funding rather than resorting to the ballot."
Councilman Dale Carter questioned the community center being paired with park maintenance yet again. He asked the Commission's thoughts on why they combined the two issues instead of separating them this time around.
"The overall consensus was for a new community center," replied Splittorff. "The majority agreed on it because of the sunset clause."
"We have addressed public safety and now it's time to address the quality of life," said Ross.