Jackson approves sales tax for community center, parks

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
General election poll workers Terrie Olson, left, and Lois Flannery prepare the iPad for James O. Hahs' signature Tuesday afternoon at New McKendree Methodist Church-Annex in Jackson. (Laura Simon)

A quarter-cent sales tax to help fund operations at a new Jackson community center and other park upgrades passed in Tuesday's general election with 58 percent of the vote.

Proposition 1 received 3,973 yes votes and 2,762 no votes, paving the way for the Jackson Community Betterment Corp., formerly known as the Southeast Missouri Medical Center, to donate more than $3 million to help build a community center on East Deerwood Drive.

These funds will be combined with $200,000 from the Cape Girardeau County Historical Society and a $1.8 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant now under review, making it a $5 million project.

The FEMA Grant would require the building to meet certain specifications in order to withstand an F-5 tornado and would allow the center to serve as an emergency shelter. The community center could also house emergency operations during times of disaster.

A portion of the funds raised from the new sales tax would also go toward upgrading existing Jackson park facilities and bridge a nearly $200,000 gap between what the city's park property tax generates and what it actually costs to operate the city's parks and pool.

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 other 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.

"For a city our size, this community center is going to add a lot to it. It's just one of those things a community needs to have," said Jackson Mayor Barbara Lohr. "I'm pleased about the fact that the sales tax will also allow us to be able to do a little more in the parks because it will cover a deficit that had been spent out of general funds that is definitely needed elsewhere."

Jackson Chamber of Commerce executive director Brian Gerau said the city's support of a project like this is why Jackson is one of the best communities in the state.

"People see the big picture in Jackson and understand the vitality of what a community center is as an attraction for new business, for people who live in Jackson and for people who live in surrounding communities," Gerau said.

Passing the park tax was a necessary step for the community center project to move forward, said Steve Elefson, president of the Jackson Community Betterment Corp. A six-person committee has been formed -- made up of three city staff and three corporation board members -- to oversee the construction of the community center.

The group can't move forward until it receives word from FEMA on its grant application, however, Elefson was hopeful notification would come by the end of the year.

"It's possible by mid-2013 we could be starting work," he said.

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