Group forms in support of Jackson sales tax measure

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jackson voters will ultimately decide whether a proposed one-quarter cent sales tax increase should fund operation of a new community center along with improvements to parks, but supporters of the proposition say its passage is likely.

"We've had a really great response from people so far," said Tina Weber, a member of the city's park board who is leading CPR for Jackson, a group promoting passage of Proposition 1, which would increase city revenue by around $500,000 annually and fund the operation and maintenance of a donated community center building and improvements in the city's parks. "CPR" in the group's name stands for "Community Center/Parks/Recreation."

City officials, including Mayor Barbara Lohr, have voiced support of the proposition's passage because they say the sales tax rate for the city will still be lower than in surrounding communities like Cape Girardeau and Perryville, and the additional revenue will offset $100,000 per year from the general revenue fund that is currently going to parks and recreation expenses instead of the fire, police and street departments. The Jackson Chamber of Commerce also recently endorsed the passage of the proposition after a community-based not-for-profit fundraising group, Southeast Missouri Medical Center, Inc., presented its plans for donation of a newly-built community center to chamber board members. Approval of the sales tax increase by voters in the Nov. 6 election would bring the city's sales tax rate to 7.225 percent.

The organization outlined its plans to the city earlier this year for donating an approximately $5 million community center to be built on East Deerwood Drive that would contain a large multipurpose sports room that would also serve as a tornado "safe room" approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meeting rooms, a historical room, an electronic library, office space, storage space and a kitchen. Lohr has said without the passage of the proposition that the center will not be built, since around half of the revenue from the tax increase would pay for its operation. What's left over would be used for parks upgrades, though officials only have a rough estimate of what it will actually cost to run the community center.

Weber said the community center would allow residents more access to rental space for events and give the city a venue it now lacks. Upgrades in the parks, such as replacing aging playground equipment and restrooms, would additionally be possible with the passage of the proposition, she said. The park board would also like to replace the city's existing swimming pool sometime in the future, she said, but can't now with the current financial outlook.

Plans for the community center show a building that could be added onto in years to come if needed, according to Weber, which could be the case if the city's library were to eventually relocate there from its current location, which she said is being talked over as the community discusses the proposition.

Voter-approved sales tax increases have been used to build and operate community centers and park improvements in surrounding communities, including Cape Girardeau, where voters approved a half-cent increase in 2008 that created a $20 million revenue stream for the construction and operation of the Shawnee Park Center and renovations of existing fields, additions of shelters and playground equipment to parks and other projects, and in Perryville, where county voters in 1996 approved a half-cent sales tax that funded construction and operation of the Perry Park Center. Those taxes had clauses to expire or roll back when voters passed them.

The Jackson tax doesn't have an expiration or rollback included in the ballot language.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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Jackson, MO

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