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Parks, stormwater tax held off August ballot

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A proposal that would have asked voters to renew an eighth-cent stormwater sales tax and increase the overall Parks’ sales tax to three-eighths of a percent in August was voted down by Greene County commissioners on May 24.

The commissioners said the results of a recent telephone survey found that voters would likely deny any increase in taxes, according to a Parks’ news release. The ballot initiative would have asked voters to renew an eighth-cent countywide stormwater sales tax generally used for waterway improvements that was approved in 2006 and increase the permanent Parks’ tax by an eighth-cent. Currently, a quarter-cent in sales taxes is dedicated to the Parks’ department. The quarter-cent ballot measure proposed to county commissioners would have been shared between Park Board and stormwater services, and effectively raised sales taxes in the county by an eighth-cent.

In 2001, Greene County voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax – half of which was permanently dedicated to the Parks’ department, while the other half was an eighth-cent stormwater tax that had a five-year sunset. In 2006, voters approved an identical tax measure that effectively increased the Park’s tax to one quarter of one cent. That eighth-cent stormwater tax – half of the sales tax approved in 2006 – is set to sunset in June 2012.

“As a Park Board, we join the commission in a sensitive approach to the timing of this issue,” Park Board Chair Jerry Clark said in a news release. “We respect the Commission’s decision and will continue to work with both the county and city to respond to the needs of our countywide community. We also appreciate the countless citizens and organizations who took the time to respond with support for this Parks and stormwater initiative.”

The three county commissioners voted unanimously against the proposal on May 24 after first receiving the request to put the measure on the ballot April 18.

“We have received numerous comments from our residents regarding this proposal, and we have conducted a voter survey. Our conclusion is that our residents are still struggling with the economic downturn, compounded by the unemployment rate and rising gas and food prices. Now is simply not the appropriate time to place this sales tax initiative before the voters of Greene County,” commissioners said in a separately released statement.

As with the sales taxes approved in 2001 and 2006, half of the quarter-cent initiative would have been devoted to funding Parks’ projects including development of the school-park sites within the Parks, Open Space and Greenways Master Plan; aquatic facility development and renovations; Dickerson Park Zoo improvements and exhibit upgrades; and trail expansion and development. The other half of the tax would have funded improvements to lakes, streams and waterways throughout the county and been up for renewal in five years, according to the Parks’ news release.

Commissioners said they believe that an additional Parks’ tax is not a priority of Greene County governance.

“Greene County government, like our residents, is making do with less. We are facing urgent funding shortfalls in our law enforcement and criminal justice system. These are needs with which we continue to struggle. We realize our decision will result in delays in many planned Parks projects, and we respectfully ask the community for patience as we prioritize numerous taxpayer needs against limited taxpayer funds,” commissioners said in their released statement.

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