PAOLA — More than 20 years ago, Paola voters approved a half-cent sales tax to fund the construction and operation of the Paola Family Pool at Wallace Park.
Now, city officials hope voters will again show their support in November by renewing the sales tax to make improvements to the pool, along with other parks and streets throughout town.
Paola City Council members and other city officials talked about the half-cent sales tax during the council meeting Tuesday, June 11.
The half-cent sales tax was originally passed in 1996 to fund construction of the pool and generate revenue to establish a pool reserve fund. By the time the 10-year sales tax first came up for renewal in 2005, that reserve fund had grown to a sizable amount, so city leaders focused on needed improvements to city buildings, as well as streets and parking lots.
Voters supported the tax once again, and it was renewed in 2005 to fund the construction and renovation of four city buildings — the Paola Justice Center, Paola Community Center, Paola City Hall and Paola Free Library.
All revenue that was collected above and beyond what was allotted for the projects went toward improving city streets and parking lots.
The tax’s official renewal period was from 2006 to 2021, as it was approved by voters as a 15-year renewal. If it is renewed again in November, the new term will begin once the existing tax expires in 2021, City Clerk Dan Droste said.
City officials are hopeful the tax can once again be renewed for the pool, parks and streets. Paola City Manager Jay Wieland said the swimming pool is in need of “major renovations and substantial upgrades” that he estimates will cost between $3.4 and $3.8 million.
An official list of planned pool upgrades has not yet been finalized, but Wieland said city officials have been meeting with representatives of the Paola-based Splashtacular to discuss ideas for a possible splash park addition, new picnic area and piping upgrades, among other things.
Droste also pointed out the city typically spends between $100,000 and $150,000 on annual operational expenses at the pool, and the reserve fund is on pace to run out halfway through next year.
Park improvements in general have been a recent focus for the council, and there has been some discussion about using a portion of the half-cent sales tax revenue, if it’s renewed, to make improvements to the city-owned ballfields at Wallace Park, or help build a dog park at Lake Miola or Wallace Park, or help build a disc golf course somewhere in the city.
Council member Aaron Nickelson, who has pushed for a disc golf course in the past, said he’d also like to see the ballot question worded so that funds could be used for land acquisition related to city parks.
The council members all agreed, though, that a portion of the funding should continue to be allotted to streets and parking lots, and council member Leigh House suggested including sidewalks as well.
Following the rough winter, Wieland said it would have been nice to have had more funding available for this year’s street improvement program.
Nothing was finalized at the meeting, but Droste said the city would need to submit the ballot wording to the County Clerk’s Office by Sept. 1 to get it included on the Nov. 5 ballot.
If sales tax revenue remains steady, Droste estimates the half-cent sales tax would generate about $11.5 million over the next 15 years if approved.
He reminded the council, though, that the revenue comes in over time, so any initial pool improvements likely would need to be funded by selling general obligation bonds that would be paid off using half-cent sales tax revenue.