Commission broadens look at park funding

The Parks and Recreation Commission will broaden its look at options for buying land on Clay Street for a park — and will even consider whether a park is needed there at all.

An option of selling two acres of the park department's 10-acre Westwood property has generated opposition from neighbors and others.

On Monday night, the Parks Commission directed Parks Director Don Robertson to explore a number of funding methods, including selling Westwood acreage, asking voters to approve a property tax-funded bond to buy park land and renewing the city's restaurant meals tax.

The meals tax, which expires in 2010, would have to be renewed by voters.

On Nov. 4, the City Council voted to acquire 10 acres on Clay Street for an affordable housing project. The council agreed to set aside some of the land for a possible park. It gave the Parks Commission two years to come up with a funding method.

If the Parks Commission doesn't want to buy land from the city for a park, the city could sell the land to another party to recoup some of the cost of the Clay Street land. The city and Jackson County Housing Authority are buying it for $3.6 million worth of cash and city property.

Buying 3.75 acres of Clay Street land would cost the parks department $1.35 million plus interest.

At the Monday meeting, Parks Commissioners acknowledged that winning renewal of the restaurant meals tax would require a major effort.

Commissioner Rich Rosenthal said he has already seen bumper stickers around town advocating an end to the existing meals tax, which is five cents on every dollar spent on prepared food and drinks. Four cents of the tax goes to fund sewage treatment plant upgrades, and one cent is for park land purchases.

Projected revenues from the parks share of the tax are already committed to pay for past park land purchases.

Rosenthal said the commission should look at whether other areas of town may need a park more than the lower Clay Street neighborhood.

Ashland Family YMCA fields are nearby. Jackson County Housing Authority will likely build a small playground as part of its construction of the affordable housing project.

Local restaurant owner Ron Roth said he doesn't know whether or not voters would approve a meals tax renewal.

"It's 100 percent sure it would be a good fight," he said.

Roth suggested the parks department consider hiring a temporary part-time staff person who could work on seeking donations and grants to fund park land purchases.

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