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Park sales tax implementation plan passes | Local

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The city council adopted an approach on Monday to implement the use of 2021 parks sales tax revenue that prioritizes project completion in the early years over land acquisition.

The Implementation Plan is a schedule of proposed projects that the Parks and Recreation Department plans to carry out on an annual basis.

Some members of the public have expressed concern that the implementation plan would allow the department to use acquisition funds to supplement lost revenue if sales tax revenue does not match forecasts.

Dee Dokken spoke during Monday evening’s public comment session and raised concerns about the approach. Dokken expressed concern that if emergency funds were to run out, the department would withdraw funds from the trails and acquisition categories.

“When you have to start cutting, it’s going to be trails and land acquisition, because those are the ones that get recharged until the end,” Dokken said.

Parks Department Director Mike Griggs said while that’s true, the department would pull money out of the provident fund first.

“So if we forecast that sales tax will bring in $3 million and only bring in $2.5 million, … we can use that contingency to replace that half million,” Griggs said. “However, you know, that can only last for a while, and in 2015, that’s what we found out.”

The reason the department plans to “top up” the acquisition fund, Griggs said, is to deliver on the promise to voters by delivering on the projects the city announced to promote tax expansion last fall. If the land acquisition funds are not pooled more massively at the end of the 10-year period than the tax funds, the projects would be cut instead of the acquisition funds, he said.

“If we didn’t have to do that by putting acquisition money at the end, and we had to cut projects … you could say we’re breaking our promise to voters,” Griggs said.

Land acquisition is used for new park developments in neighborhoods and for extension. The Department of Parks will purchase land from citizens or developers to create parks in neighborhoods under construction or to extend trails and create parks in established neighborhoods.

“One thing we find is that we can work with the owners and they can sell or donate the land and have tax donations and tax credits, where they can earn the same amount of income if they were selling it to us at fair market value,” Griggs said.

The use of acquisition fund money was a concern during the pandemic because Columbia was generating less sales tax revenue.

The Parks Department withdrew some funds from the land acquisition in particular, but that money is now being returned in full in the coming weeks through increased sales tax revenue, Griggs said.

The fear that the money from the acquisition funds is going to happen in the future is no longer an issue, Griggs said.

“It was a concern during the pandemic, but we don’t expect it to be a concern going forward,” Griggs said.

“We are still buying land…. And as a result, we’re still meeting some of our land acquisition goals, but we’re also meeting our primary goal of delivering the projects that we promised voters,” Griggs said.

A staff memo shared with council notes that the 2021 Parks Sales Tax funding schedule for land acquisition allocates $150,000 per year for the first eight years, which would allow the department to purchase land for a neighborhood park per year or a community park every two to three years.