Supporters of new Jackson sales tax make pitch

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The site of the proposed community center is Jackson is shown on this map.

Supporters of a quarter-cent sales tax to help fund operations at a new Jackson community center and other park upgrades on next week's ballot are working to get their message out as Election Day draws near.

About 70 people attended an information session Monday morning at Kimbeland Country Club, where Steve Elefson discussed how a new quarter-cent sales tax, listed on the ballot as Proposition 1, could help maintain a $5 million community center that would be built with donated funds from a local not-for-profit organization.

Elefson also explained how the city's parks and recreation department has been operating for several years at a deficit and the proposed sales tax, expected to generate half-a-million dollars annually, would also provide an ongoing revenue stream to help maintain and upgrade the city's parks.

While other communities in the region, including Cape Girardeau, Perryville, Farmington and Sikeston, have community centers, the city of Jackson does not.

Brian Gerau, executive director of the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce, said a community center is something Jackson needs.

"It's important to have those facilities in our town to stay progressive," Gerau said.

Recognizing this need, the Jackson Community Betterment Corp., formerly known as the Southeast Missouri Medical Center, has offered to build a community center with privately raised funds and donate it to the city of Jackson.

A community center is something that has been in the city's 10-year plan for some time, said Elefson, who is president of the Jackson Community Betterment Corp., but funding was always an obstacle.

His organization, which formed in the 1960s to recruit doctors to Jackson, later built and then sold Jackson Manor nursing home, and over the years made other property investments that have left it with about $3 million for the project. It's proposed to be built on East Deerwood Drive, near the Whitey Herzog Baseball Stadium on nine acres of property donated by the Clark family: Bobby and Jane and Ron and Marcia Clark to the organization.

In addition to the $3 million from Elefson's organization, The Cape Girardeau Historical Society is willing to donate $200,000 for a historic display in the new center and a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant application, now in its final stages, would provide $1.8 million in funding and add a tornado safe room to the facility.

Although the FEMA grant does require the building meet certain specifications in order to withstand an F-5 tornado, it would allow the center to serve as a shelter and house emergency operations during times of natural disasters.

The memory of the F-3 tornado that ripped through Jackson in May 2003, leaving a two-mile path of devastation including damage to the city's police and fire stations, is still fresh in the minds of many residents, Gerau said.

Recent ice storms also show the need for a facility like this that would have backup power generators, he said.

"It's a great deal for the city and a fantastic opportunity," said Gerau, who said the chamber has endorsed Proposition 1. "Five million dollars doesn't come your way every day. I hate to see us miss this opportunity."

While the center would be built debt free, the tax is needed to fund operations including staff and utilities, Elefson said.

Park upgrades

It will also bring in funds to help the city to make upgrades to its park system, which has grown over the past few decades although the city's property tax to support parks has not, Elefson said.

The Jackson City Park opened in 1933, but the city's park tax of 10 cents per $100 assessed valuation came in 1948.

Sixty-four years later, it's still the only tax to support Jackson parks, now through the Hancock Amendment set at 12.25 cents per $100 assessed valuation.

Since the city's first park, several more facilities have been added, increasing park acreage from 87 acres in 1933 to 211 acres today, Elefson said.

The city's parks department has depended on Jackson's general revenue to bridge the nearly $200,000 gap between what the park property tax generates and what it actually costs to operate the city's parks and pool, said Tina Weber, park board member.

Previously city officials have used a figure of about $100,000 that currently comes out of general revenue to operate parks, saying part of the new sales tax would be used to offset that expenditure.

Although no one spoke in opposition to the project at Monday's meeting, the fact that the proposal doesn't contain a sunset clause has been criticized.

Elefson said one wasn't needed because the city will continue to have an ongoing need to fund improvements to its park facilities.

The first phase of the community center project includes both a gym and performing arts center that could seat more than 900 people for concerts or events. The second phase would include using future parks and recreation sales tax funds to build a new city pool. The city's 40-year old pool has needed costly repairs recently, Elefson said.

He said a sales tax is a fair way to fund the project because it will spread the burden to all those who come to Jackson to shop, eat or get gas, not just property owners.

Some in the community have raised objections to the tax, saying rental fees from the facility should cover its overhead and a tax isn't needed to support an operation that competes with other private businesses or not-for-profit groups that also host community events, such as the Bavarian Halle, Elks Lodge or Knights of Columbus hall.

If approved, the parks and recreation tax would bring the city's tax rate to 7.225 percent, still lower than Cape Girardeau, Perryville, Mo., Farmington, Mo., or Sikeston, Mo.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

East Deerwood Drive, Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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