Residents in unincorporated Jefferson County will be asked in April to vote on a 3/8-cent sales tax to fund county parks improvements.
The Jefferson County Council voted 4-3 Sept. 13 to place the tax measure on the April 5 ballot. It will require a simple majority for passage.
Councilman Brian Haskins (District 1, High Ridge), who ran for his seat on a platform of improving the county’s parks system, sponsored and promoted the legislation and said he is happy people will get a chance to determine whether they want to pay for better parks.
“There’s a great sense of relief,” said Haskins, who has pushed for a dedicated parks tax since 2015.
In addition to Haskins, those who voted to place the measure, called Proposition P, on the ballot include council members Tracey Perry (District 5, Festus), Dan Stallman (District 6, De Soto) and Vicky James (District 7, Cedar Hill.).
Council members Renee Reuter (District 2, Imperial), Phil Hendrickson (District 3, Arnold) and Charles Groeteke (District 4, Barnhart) cast the dissenting votes.
If approved by voters, the sales tax would generate about $5 million a year.
Currently, a countywide property tax of 2.73 cents per $100 of assessed valuation funds almost all the Jefferson County Parks Department’s $1 million annual budget, although some money comes from grants and user fees.
In the past, Haskins unsuccessfully promoted tax issues with the intention of building a recreation center and indoor pool along the Hwy. 30 corridor, and several people brought that up when they spoke against placing the proposal on the ballot.
“I get that,” Haskins said. “They want to put a face on the other side. But what I see is a Parks Foundation (an advisory council) and a Parks Board and the administration of the Parks and Recreation Department that will decide what gets done.”
Haskins said a ballot commission has been formed to raise money to promote the ballot issue.
“There are four people on the ballot commission. It’s bipartisan, because our parks are not a partisan issue, and they’re from all walks of life from different parts of the county,” he said.
The commission members are Bill Seek, Jerry Rogers, Ben Haskins and Trish Cardona Fribis.
Haskins said the panel hopes to raise $60,000 to promote the issue.
“When (a 35-cent property tax for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office approved by voters in April 2018) was up, they raised $50,000. We figure with inflation and everything, we need a little more.”
Haskins said it’s not just his vision that will carry the day.
“If this passes, a lot of people will be involved in this. In addition to the Parks Foundation, the Parks Board and the parks administration, there will be committees formed. The RC (remote-control vehicle) people will want to help decide how to develop a park for them. The same with the equestrian people. There may be people wanting to develop tennis courts in one of the parks, or swim teams. The other thing is that if this passes, the Parks Department will have money to go for matching grants. Right now, we don’t have enough money to go get more money, like we get for highways.”
Eight members of the public spoke for the proposal to place the issue on the ballot, and three spoke against.
A pair of proposed amendments to the legislation failed.
Reuter proposed pushing the vote until Aug. 2 when the county will hold primary elections. It failed 4-3, along the same lines as the vote to place the issue on the ballot.
The county does not typically have elections in April, which are generally for municipal, school district and ambulance and fire protection district elections.
The cost to hold elections is split between the jurisdictions that have candidates or issues on the ballot.
“This (holding the election in August) will save the county over $75,000 because it puts it on a ballot with federal and statewide races. We wouldn’t have to pay as much money,” she said.
Haskins has countered that the County Council voted to place the property tax for increased funding for the Sheriff’s Office on the April 2018 ballot.
Council member Charles Groeteke (District 4, Barnhart) then put forth an amendment that would have restricted the collection of the sales tax to just Haskins’ District 1; that amendment failed 5-2, with Reuter joining Groeteke in voting for it.
Groeteke said he offered the amendment because he didn’t believe his constituents would benefit from a parks sales tax.
He said he hasn’t heard from any residents of his district who favor a sales tax for parks.
Hendrickson has said he sees other priorities on the horizon.
“I’m particularly concerned about the April date, but until I see what we have to do concerning putting funding for a jail and courthouse before voters, I can’t support putting something on that’s not as important.”