Voters will likely be asked to decide on a parks sales tax in the April 2014 municipal election, and the Rolla City Council will hold another workshop within the next month or two to try to figure out just how large a tax to request.
“We need a four to five month lead time,” City Administrator John Butz said, noting he would like to “continue the dialogue” and “engage the community.”
There was not much discussion on the topic at Monday night’s council meeting when Parks and Recreation Director Scott Caron presented a review of the need for a source of revenue to support The Centre and SplashZone after the half-cent recreation sales tax sunsets Dec. 31 of this year.
Although he acknowledged The Centre and SplashZone bring in $1.2 million per year from memberships and user fees, that amount fails to pay for the operations.
“The goal was for these fees to cover the operational expenses of The Centre and SplashZone, but they have been unable to do so despite tremendous community participation for a market our size,” he said.
Consequently, the sales tax that was approved by voters as a way to raise money to repay the bonds used to construct the facilities must be used to subsidize their operation, too.
“The original (recreation) sales tax has been used to cover the difference of approximately $300,000 each year,” Caron noted.
Although a tax must be used to subsidize the operation of the recreation center, Caron said the operation is a success.
“While by some accounts The Centre/SplashZone has been deemed a failure, to many new and prospective residents and new and traditional health-conscious citizens it is a crown jewel in a very good park system,” he said.
In addition to the money needed to subsidize the recreation center, the department needs money to pay for operation of the parks.
That money has been coming out of the general fund. The city administration would like to have another source of revenue, so the general revenue can be used for other needs, especially public safety.
“In order to adequately fund the entire Parks and Recreation Department approximately $500,000 is needed annually,” Caron said. That would cover the subsidy of the recreation center and the operation of the parks at the current level.
“This level of funding would allow the system to be maintained in its current state with little to no capital/public improvements. Consequently the backlog of maintenance issues is extensive, including outdated playground equipment and safety surfaces, gravel parking lots and old equipment,” Caron said.
Page 2 of 2 - Caron said a one-eighth cent sales tax would raise the $500,000.
He said a quarter-cent sales tax could be rolled back to one-eighth cent after four years. That would raise $4 million over the eight-year period to bring the park system up to “current standards.”
A quarter-cent sales tax with no rollback would cover the operations cost and would pay to “update the park system, maintain it into the future and provide some funding for additional capital improvements.”
Caron also suggested discussing rolling back the current park property tax levy in exchange for the sales tax.
The property tax on privately owned real estate within the city limits raises about $220,000 annually.
Eliminating that “would make the park system truly funded by the region but would mean loss of a reliable revenue stream.”