December 26, 2012 - St. Louis County parks could receive an additional $6 million of revenue annually if voters approve the Safe and Accessible Arch and Public Parks Initiative sales tax that is expected to be on the April 2 ballot.
County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls told the Call the county parks fund currently generates roughly $18.5 million annually, and though there are no specific projects in mind as of yet, if the tax is approved, it would be spent on the 47 active parks in the county.
"We don't contemplate adding more parks," Earls said.
Legislation to place the sales tax on the April ballot was introduced at the Dec. 18 County Council meeting.
As proposed, the tax would be a three-sixteenths of 1 percent sales tax to fund safety, security and improvements for the Arch grounds and county parks improvements. Revenue from the tax would be divided with 60 percent going to the Great Rivers Greenway District, according to the St. Louis County legislation, and the other 40 percent going toward county parks.
Services that have been reduced in the past due to budget constraints, such as frequency of mowing, could be put back into effect with the passage of the tax, Earls said.
Tom Irwin, Civic Progress executive director, told the Call the tax went through Jefferson City earlier this year, at which time Civic Progress was given permission to approach the three jurisdictions involved in the Great Rivers Greenway — St. Louis County, St. Louis City and St. Charles — to ask them to put the issue on the ballot "so the people ultimately will have the final decision."
The total revenue for all three jurisdictions would be roughly $38 million annually, according to Irwin. The tax would have to be approved in St. Louis County and either St. Louis City or St. Charles to go into effect.
If the sales tax is approved, Earls said county residents will "have an Arch that they can be proud of."
"The Arch grounds would be sustained as the centerpiece of our region," Earls said.
He also noted the expansion of the Great Rivers Greenway trail system and a "very stabilized county parks system." With the tax, county parks would be "fully funded," according to Earls, and roughly $4 million per year would go to municipal parks.
"Overall, it will be a boost to the entire parks system," Earls said.
If the sales tax is not approved, Earls said both the county and Great Rivers Greenway would have to live within current resources and municipalities would "lose the opportunity for improvements in local neighborhood parks."
Approval of the tax would put St. Louis County "back to pre-2011 levels of funding for parks," according to Mac Scott, spokesman for County Executive Charlie Dooley.
Scott said if the tax is not approved, the county will have to "be more prudent with (its) spending." The parks revenue stream has not been able to increase, and Scott said, assuming inflation continues and the economy stays where it is, "things are going to get more expensive."
"We're always going to be struggling with what we have coming in to support our parks program," he said.