The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • That's What I Think: I’m leaning toward voting for parks tax

  • After the tax to subsidize The Centre failed in April, some staffers sat around here in the newsroom and tried to figure out what the next step for the city would be and came up with this scenario:
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  • After the tax to subsidize The Centre failed in April, some staffers sat around here in the newsroom and tried to figure out what the next step for the city would be and came up with this scenario:
    First, the city would ask for a sales tax to be used only for the parks, not for The Centre. Voters would likely approve that, for even those of us against using tax money for The Centre would be in favor of financing improvements in the parks.
    Then, with that new money available for parks and with no need to use the general fund to subsidize parks any longer, the general fund could be used to subsidize The Centre.
    We thought it would simply be a switch of pots of tax money for The Centre, like what happened with the lottery money for education decades ago. I’ve heard that described as bait-and-switch or a shell game.
    Mayor Lou Magdits assured us Monday night, Aug. 4, at the council meeting that is not the intent. He said the money built up by the recreation sales tax that ended Dec. 31 and that is in the bank for The Centre will be used as a “bridge” to whatever solution the city finds to make that facility stand on its own.
    Magdits and the council were persuasive enough Monday night to get two previous tax opponents to say something positive about this proposal.
    Peggy Chirban, owner of Vessell’s Fitness Center, said she was “comfortable” with the plan. Alfred Chapman, a contractor who lives outside the city limits but was quite vocal at meetings last spring, said he believed the city is headed in the right direction. Both of them spoke during the citizens comments portion at the end of the meeting.
    I’ll acknowledge that Magdits, who as soon as he was sworn in last April, said he would begin working on finding a way to fund the parks, seems to have come up with a way to persuade not only those two, but probably a majority of voters to back a tax for parks.
    Both he and City Administrator John Butz stressed the importance of a solid win, not a 51-49 vote. They want a two-thirds or three-fourths majority.
    To do that, the city will have to: 1.) Regain the trust of those of us who have been here a long time and remember 1998 and 2.) Work hard to get all the transplants who have moved into town since 1998 and don’t care about what happened or was said way back then to go to the polls.
    One way to achieve No. 1 is to just say no to the temptation to appoint a “grassroots committee” to support the tax. That was a phony move in 1998 and again in 2011 and again in the spring of 2014.
    Page 2 of 2 - If they appoint another grassroots committee this time around, count me as a no vote. All a grassroots ploy does is confuse the situation and provide cover for the administration and council; I think that was probably the purpose in the past, but this is one voter who isn’t going to put up with it this time.
    See, a grassroots committee and its chairman can go around and advertise and hold meetings and make statements to the press that don’t really have anything to do with the plans of the city government.
    I was naive back in 1998, I am sorry to admit, and I believed everything the grassroots committee told me then. In 2011 and again this spring, city officials and council members said any statements made by private individuals were just opinions. Only what the city officials said carried weight; citizen comments from the grassroots committee did not.
    So let’s just leave a grassroots committee out of the mix this time around.
    I’m going to be called divisive for these comments, but I’m trying to help the city officials understand that to regain the trust of the community, all they have to do is tell us the truth. We will be keeping track of what they say, studying how they parse their words, remembering and recording, trying to figure out if they’re being upright and honest with us.
    At this point, I’m leaning toward voting for the tax as they presented it on the first reading, but it wouldn’t take a whole lot to get me to change my mind.
    I like the idea of giving a portion of it with an expiration date, for that will assure us that they will indeed use that portion for the capital improvements that have gone undone for a decade and a half. If they renege, they won’t get a second chance.
    I hope the other 10 councilmen will ignore Councilmen J.D. Williams and Tony Bahr who want to give the city a full quarter cent tax permanently. If they go along with that scheme, I will cast my one vote against it.
    I would prefer the entire tax to have an expiration date.
    I also like the line that Councilman Don Morris insisted be added, the line that says the use of the tax money on The Centre is prohibited. However, that won’t prohibit them from using general fund money on The Centre.
    I’d like to put that off awhile to force The Centre management to find ways to make the facility pay for itself as was promised back in 1998.
    Meanwhile, we’ll just have to trust Magdits. Maybe he’ll stay in office a few years before they start subsidizing The Centre from the general fund.
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