Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Recreation commission seeks 1-mill tax increase

March 12, 2003

All agreed -- it's a bad year to talk about increasing a mill levy.

"Given the rosy picture of finances in education, it looks like we have an impeccable sense of timing," quipped Ken Mark, who chairs the U.S.D. 464 Recreation Commission.

Mark, and the recreation commission's director, Mark Zerrer, told Tonganoxie school board members Monday night that they'd like to raise the rec commission's mill levy by one mill. A mill is $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed property valuation.

Currently, the recreation commission is authorized to levy 3.5 mills, but because of increases in local property valuations, the commission has collected 3.37 mills. The recreation commission's employee benefits and liabilities are financed by a separate, additional .53 mill levy.

The recreation commission this year is collecting $285,499 in taxes, plus another $47,000 tabbed for benefits and liabilities.

The one-mill increase would mean an additional $57,000 for the recreation commission. For the owner of a $100,000 home in the school district, this would translate to an additional $11.50 annually in property taxes, Zerrer said.

When the rec commission's board first began planning to seek an increase the mill levy, they didn't anticipate the state's economic downturn.

"We started talking about this a year ago," Mark said. "It looked a lot better then than it does now."

Mark said he realizes that, given the current economic conditions, a tax increase might be protested.

But he noted that the commission's progress is visible, which could encourage district patrons to be supportive.

"They can see Chieftain Park, they can see what we've done," Mark said. "But with the uncertain economic times and the war, we could get protested."

Board member Richard Dean praised rec commission leaders for their work, which includes additions to parks, as well as athletic programs for adults and children and other events.

"You guys have done a fantastic job with the money you have," Dean said. "But it's a tough time to raise taxes, I think people are concerned, they really are."

Mark, who has been with the rec commission since 1992, said that until 1994 the commission had no paid full-time director.

In 1994, the board hired Mark Zerrer as recreation commission director. Today the commission employs Zerrer, as well as an assistant director, both full-time positions, and a 3/4-time position.

During the nine years Zerrer has been here, the commission's programs have expanded.

"We have sports for kids and adults year round now, trips things like that," Mark said.

In terms of all the activities, there are from 2,500 to 3,000 participants each year. But Zerrer noted, some people participate in multiple activities.

Mark noted that the commission's funding comes not just from Tonganoxie residents, but also from everyone who lives in the school district.

"We have had some discussion with people in the Jarbalo and Reno areas where if we could find some land in the areas north and south in the district, we'd certainly be willing to put in a backstop so they could have a place to practice or play without having to drive into Tonganoxie," Mark said.

Dean asked if the commission had considered raising user fees.

Zerrer said the board tries to keep fees low.

"This year compared to last year our summer baseball fees are higher," Zerrer said. "It's a modest increase. We don't like to raise them very much."

Future projects include installing permanent restrooms at Chieftain Park, a project expected to cost at least $40,000, and building a bridge over the creek at the fairgrounds so the commission's six acres on the other side can be accessed.

"We estimate that it would be $75,000 just to cross that, and that's not even including the cost of putting in ball fields," Mark said.

Board member Rick Lamb said he would be hesitant to endorse a mill levy increase. Lamb, who attended a governmental relations seminar in Topeka last week, expressed concern that state finances were going to worsen.

"We may not get our last school district payment at the end of the year, so I'm just a little bit cautious," Lamb said.

Board members said final payments to Kansas schools may come as much as two months late this summer.

Dean said he is curious to know how community members would feel about an increase.

"Maybe we can get more thought on this -- get the opinions of the community," Dean said.

Board members agreed to discuss the issue again at the April 14 board meeting.

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