On a narrow vote after a sometimes contentious debate Monday, the Prairie Village city council took the first step toward asking residents whether they’d support a sales tax increase to fund the city’s parks master plan.
Citing a desire to find a permanent revenue source to fund parks improvements, the city’s finance committee put a measure on Monday’s council agenda that would direct city staff to begin drafting language for a ballot measure on a city-wide sales tax hike. A memo prepared by the Parks and Recreation department noted that a .5 percent increase in the city’s sales tax would generate approximately $1 million annually — around the amount projected to be required to complete the parks plan.
The item provoked intense reaction from some council members immediately after finance committee member David Belz introduced it.
Council member Ruth Hopkins pointedly asked Belz where the finance committee got the impression that the council was interested in establishing a new revenue source for the parks plan, and council member Michael Kelly insisted that if the council wanted to fund parks projects, it should find money in the city’s existing general fund.
But other council members spoke just as passionately in favor of the proposal, with Laura Wassmer chastising some of her colleagues for acting as “gatekeepers” trying to keep the public from weighing in.
“I don’t see why this is a big issue,” Wassmer said. “Why are we so afraid of letting the public decide whether this is something that they want?”
Opponents of the bill countered that in the current economic environment, the possibility of increasing taxes to pay for parks improvements was imprudent.
The measure ultimately passed on a 6-5 vote, with Kelly, Hopkins, David Morrison, Steve Noll and Andrew Wang voting against it. Council member Al Herrera was absent.
City staff will likely present draft ballot language as well as recommendations about how a city-wide vote might be coordinated at the next council meeting.