By Jeff Fox

In addition to a $35 million community center, Blue Springs residents would see more and enhanced parks if voters approve a half-cent sales sales on the November ballot.

“So it’s a quality-of-life issue. You get to make that call,” City Council Member Dale Carter said Thursday night at a District 1 town hall meeting.

Those at the meeting generally expressed support for parks, though some questioned the need for a community center. Carter said city surveys have consistently shown residents to feel a community center is among the city’s biggest needs.

“There is a lot of benefit in putting money in our community in the form of parks,” said Bill Essman, who is helping promote the issue.

Voters go to the polls Nov. 5. The half-cent tax would primarily fund the community center but also pay for park maintenance deferred over the years, support some existing programs, and eventually expand the city’s park system.

“The great parks system we have needs some attention,” said Council Member Jeff Quibell.

The breakdown of the $3 million a year:

• $1.8 million for construction of the community center, plus $200,000 for a reserve fund for operations and maintenance there. That’s a backup as it takes a couple of years for the center to build up members.

The 85,000-square-foot community center, near U.S. 40 and Adams Dairy Parkway, would overlook the Adams Pointe Golf Course and the proposed Missouri Innovation Park.

It would have a lazy river, a lap pool and a warm-water therapy pool, as well as a teen center, a performing arts space and an indoor playground.

“It’s not like any of the aquatic facilities we have in our community,” said Parks and Recreation Director Dennis Dovel.

• $100,000 for trails maintenance.

• $100,000 to cover utilities costs for local youth sports groups, costs that are currently passed on in fees. That wouldn’t apply to the tournaments that attract out-of-town teams.

“What we’re really concerned with are our leagues,” Dovel said.

• $100,000 for unbudgeted items such as vandalism or replacing large equipment that breaks.

• $320,000 for “signature” maintenance such as shelter houses and ball fields. Those could include the tennis courts at Baumgardner Park, the shelter at Pink Hill Park and repairs at the Hidden Valley Sports Complex.

• $150,000 for senior services, including needed maintenance at Vesper Hall and a hoped-for expansion of senior transportation. That’s at two days a week now, and the city would like to go to four or five.

“It’s vitally important to them to have that transportation,” Dovel said.

• $50,000 for the performing and visual arts.

• $30,000 for scholarship assistance, to make sure low-income children can take part in such things as local sports leagues.

• A contingency fund of $150,000.

As the city cuts into its maintenance backlog, it can turn its attention to developing its 200 acres – in three different places – of undeveloped park land.

Officials portrayed a good parks system as improving property values and helping the economy overall, and Carter said the city needs amenities such as improved parks and the community center.

“But what’s happening is our kids are graduating and leaving because there’s nothing to keep them here,” he said.

The eventual goal is to have a park within walking distance of every neighborhood.

“We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there,” Carter said.

Advocates point out that sales taxes are paid by anyone shopping in the city, and Quibell said the city has taken strides in recent years in getting more retailers in town, meaning more out-of-town shoppers.

Also on Nov. 5, Jackson County has a half-cent sales tax on the ballot to fund translational medical research primarily at Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Health System and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Carter and Quibell both came out against that tax, saying it would have no benefit to Blue Springs.

“That is for three institutions on Hospital Hill in Kansas City,” Carter said.