Westerville News & Public Opinion

20-year extension of PROS tax heads to council vote

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A resolution to place a 20-year renewal of Westerville's 0.25 percent income tax for parks projects on the November ballot had its second reading at City Council's meeting Tuesday night, June 17.

And while some residents are concerned that the city is seeking a renewal six years before the tax's expiration in 2020, Parks and Recreation Director Randy Auler says the department's accomplishments since the tax took effect in 1999 should merit renewal.

"I think people are pleased with our services that we provide, but our challenge going forward is that we need to be able to maintain those facilities and continue to expand and grow to meet the community's future needs," Auler said.

In 2012, the city began updating its Parks Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Master Plan that gauges residents' wishes to guide the department's activities.

Based on the surveys of the plan, Auler and city officials believe residents are behind the PROS tax and what it's allowed the department to do since first being passed by voters in 1998.

"The city and its residents are very pleased with what we've accomplished," Auler said. "The survey that we did with our master plan process indicated that 85 percent of the city thinks that they've really received good value from the parks system from that income tax. When you talk to people, they're always talking about coming to the community because of the parks system."

In 1999, the first year the tax was collected, it produced $3.1 million for the department. The number has since grown to nearly $5 million per year, and is projected to grow to nearly $6 million by 2018.

With the funds, the parks department has completed a number of projects, highlighted by the Westerville Community Center completed in 2001.

City Councilwoman Jenifer French, who has been involved with both the Westerville Recreation Advisory Board and Westerville Parks Foundation, said she likes what the department was able to do with the PROS funds raised thus far.

"I think our Parks and Recreation Department and city in general are very good stewards of tax dollars," she said. "So I'm certainly in favor of the renewal, especially given some of the plans for the funds that were generated for our renewal."

After appearing in front of council twice, the resolution's final reading and council vote is set for July 1. If approved, voters will see the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

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"Our challenge going forward is that we need to be able to maintain (our parks) facilities and continue to expand and grow to meet the community's future needs."

 

-- RANDY AULER

city parks and recreation director

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