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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • City council to discuss placing parks sales tax on April ballot

  • After months of talking about it in meetings at Rolla City Hall, park pavilions and The Centre, the Rolla City Council Monday night will take the first official step toward asking voters to approve a permanent sales tax to subsidize the operation of the recreation center.
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  • After months of talking about it in meetings at Rolla City Hall, park pavilions and The Centre, the Rolla City Council Monday night will take the first official step toward asking voters to approve a permanent sales tax to subsidize the operation of the recreation center.
    "Shall the municipality of Rolla, Missouri, impose a sales tax of one-quarter (1/4) of one percent for eight years beginning October 1, 2014, reduced to one-eighth (1/8) of one percent beginning October 1, 2022, for purpose of funding local parks and recreation?"
    That's the wording of the question that will be placed on the April 8, 2014, municipal election ballot after the council hears the final reading of the ordinance and approves it.
    Presumably, that will happen at the Dec. 2 meeting, although the council could waive its rules and hear the final reading Monday night.
    Although the proposed ballot language does not specify a breakdown of use of the money raised by the tax, city officials have stated at public meetings that the proceeds of the tax will be divided evenly between operations and capital improvements.
    Moreover, they have said that the half used for operations will be divided evenly between the parks and The Centre/SplashZone, while the half for capital improvements will be used in the parks.
    A recreation sales tax of one-half cent per dollar will end Dec. 31. The proceeds of that tax were used to pay off the bonds used to finance construction of The Centre. Those bonds have been paid off and city officials have said the tax will leave the city with $4 million to $5 million in a reserve account that will be available for future capital expenses on the building.
    The city has also been using some of the money each year since 1998 to subsidize the operation of The Centre. A new source of revenue to subsidize The Centre is needed, city officials say.
    Two years ago, voters declined to provide that source of revenue when they turned down a ballot proposal to make the half-cent recreation sales tax permanent.
    Since then, the city has merged the parks department and the recreation department (The Centre and SplashZone) and refashioned the recreation sales tax into a lower parks tax.
    At the ward meetings held this fall in neighborhood parks, city officials have stressed that the tax is needed for parks operation and capital improvements to the playgrounds, parking lots and restrooms.
    Reaction to the tax was mixed with many of those attending the ward meetings noting that they recall city officials promising The Centre would be financially self-sufficient by the time of the recreation sales tax sunset.
    Those residents also spoke about the inequity of having all shoppers, particularly those of lower income, paying a sales tax to subsidize the recreation center for people who can afford to pay the membership fees.
    Page 2 of 2 - And they noted their opposition to the city competing with private enterprise in the fitness business.
    Proponents, some of whom spoke at the ward meetings, turned out in larger numbers at the wrap-up meeting held at The Centre. They said The Centre is a valuable asset to the city and is used in economic development efforts to attract jobs to Rolla.
    Many said The Centre was the reason they moved to Rolla. Others said they were surprised when they moved to Rolla to find a city of this size with a municipally-owned fitness center and encouraged its continued operation.
    Regarding the competition with private enterprise, the proponents noted that no fitness centers have gone out of business because of the city's competition with them. In fact at least one more private fitness center has opened.
    And, proponents said, it is time to "get over" the belief that city officials promised The Centre would be financially self-sufficient.
    City officials, as well as members of the community who worked for the recreation sales tax in 1998, deny that any promise was made that The Centre would be financially self-sufficient by the time the recreation tax sunsets.
    Besides, times and circumstances have changed, they said at the meetings, such as the loss of support from Phelps County Regional Medical Center and the construction of a competing public facility on the local university campus that drew away student members of The Centre,
    That loss of business from PCRMC and the introduction of competition from the university facility make the tax necessary, according to the city officials.
    Also on the agenda for tonight's meeting:
    • Public hearing on rezoning of the Islamic Student Center at 1306 Elm St. from C-1 to R-3.
    • Presentation from Kelly Beets, senior loss control consultant for the Missouri Intergovernmental Risk Management Association.
    • Quarterly tourism report from Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Stevie Kearse.
    • Quarterly Rolla Municipal Utilities report from RMU General Manager Rodney Bourne.
    • Review of MoDOT/transportation projects by City Administrator John Butz.
    • Ordinance to replat Lot 1, Chrysler Addition and to approve the final plat of Lots 1 and 2 of the Chrysler Addition No. 2.
    • Report from Councilman Steve Leonard on the Local Governmental Employees Retirement System annual conference.
    No closed session is scheduled.

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