EAST PRAIRIE - With the city's finances tighter than ever, the future of East Prairie parks will be in the hands of its voters Tuesday as they decide whether or not to approve a half-cent city park sales tax.
"Our main objectives with this tax if it passes are to fix the pool, put lights on the fields and also make sure we have money for the upkeep of the parks," said Ricky Penrod, East Prairie parks board member.
"They're estimating it will bring in $75,000 to $100,000 per year," said Penrod. "Everything will have to be approved by the city before it is spent, but everything from the tax will have to go to the parks - its earmarked."
With operational costs for the city exceeding revenues in all departments, Penrod said the park tax will free up funds the city can use for other things. "It will keep the burden off the city," he said. "Parks will be a self-funded operation that will take care of itself."
The city has been mowing and picking up the trash from city parks using the street department but hasn't been able to do much more. "We really just haven't had the funds," said Lonnie Thurman, assistant city administrator.
Thurman said since the streets tax expired a couple years ago and was not renewed by voters, the city has only one sales tax - - the general revenue sales tax of one cent. "This new tax will not have a sunset clause."
Proponents of the proposed park tax believe a sales tax to be most fair as not all of those who use East Prairie's parks live in the city limits. A sales tax will spread the cost out among all those who shop in the city, not just residents.
Brett Blackman, East Prairie parks director, said the first priority if the tax is approved will be to reopen the E.C. Davis Swimming Pool located just off Highway 105 near North Martin Street.
"A year ago we were forced to close our swimming pool," said Blackman. Although the city had been doing the best it could with its limited financial resources, between a leak, liability issues and the $25,000 regular yearly operational costs, it was unable to open the facility.
"It's about a fifty-year-old swimming pool that has had little renovation on it, so it was ready for an overhaul," said Blackman.
If the tax is approved, the city won't begin receiving money until December or January so officials hope to have the pool "up and running by the summer of 2003," according to Blackman.
Next on the list if the tax is approved will be the purchase and installation of lighting for the ball fields at Simpkins Park.
The construction of Simpkins Park, the city's newest park which features a baseball complex, basketball and tennis courts, a walking trail and shelters for gatherings and picnics, was funded by an Enterprise Community grant.
Unfortunately, the grant did not provide enough money to cover the cost of properly lighting the ball fields.
Blackman said the lights have to be at specified heights and provide a certain amount of illumination for the fields to be eligible to host some leagues and high school sporting events.
The projected cost for lighting is $200,000, according to officials.
Other planned projects for the future include the renovation of H.A. Jones Park, construction of a maintenance shed at the complex and a community center.