PAOLA — The city of Paola and USD 368 have both agreed to ask voters on Nov. 2 to approve the creation of a joint recreation commission.

The wording of the ballot question was approved by both entities via resolutions passed in August.

The ballot question will read:

Shall the following be adopted?

Should the Paola Unified School District #368 and the City of Paola create a joint Recreation System, with an initial levy of one mill through the school district taxing authority and such levy to only be increased as needed and allowed by state law, to provide for recreational needs of all ages, allow for a separate means by which to oversee recreational activities, and fund a number of current and future recreational functions within the Paola Unified School District 368 and the City of Paola, pursuant to the provisions of KSA 12-1922 et seq.?

The possibility of a joint rec commission in Paola has been discussed for years, but the issue has come to the forefront recently since Paola now owns the ballfields in Wallace Park and is considering constructing a new sports complex there.

The recent unification of local sports programs under the Paola Youth Sports umbrella also has helped the cause.

City and school district officials said state statute prohibits them from campaigning or asking people to vote “yes,” but they are allowed to distribute factual information and answer questions.

Officials were doing just that during the Paola Rotary Club meeting Thursday, Sept. 30. Paola USD 368 Superintendent Matt Meek spoke about the proposed recreation commission, along with Paola City Manager Sid Fleming, Paola City Council member Trent Upshaw and Justin Smail with Paola Youth Sports.

Meek, Fleming and Upshaw were members of a joint task force that was started earlier this year to look at the creation of a recreation commission. Their fellow members included Scott Golubski, Jody Garrison, Lacey Kane and Lisa Collier.

The task force concluded the best option was to propose the creation of a recreation commission by establishing a 1-mill levy using the school district’s tax base because it is bigger than the city’s. The mill would generate about $180,000 per year, officials estimate. Using the city’s tax base, it would drop to about $60,000.

State statute limits the first-year mill levy to one mill, but the mill levy could be increased by one mill per year up to a maximum of four mills, officials said.

The task force has created an informational sheet of frequently asked questions that it plans to distribute to community members. The sheet was reviewed during the Sept. 30 meeting of the Paola Rotary Club.

The sheet states that community members have carried the weight for Paola recreation opportunities for years, but the volunteer base has dwindled as sporting options have increased, and many community members recognize the growing need to expand recreational activity options to a wider range of participants.

Meek said that goes beyond youth athletics and includes things like adult education classes, daddy-daughter dances and more. According to the sheet, possible activities include adult softball and flag football, family fun nights, day trips for seniors and summer educational camps for kids.

Smail said a recreation commission would make the logistics of signing up for activities easier and would improve the efficiency of the entire process. He also thinks the time is right because Paola Youth Sports has already brought all of the sports except for the Paola Wrestling Club under one umbrella.

“It kind of feels like the stars are aligned at this point for it to happen,” Smail said. “It feels like people want it.”

The sheet points out that similar recreation commissions already exist in Louisburg, Spring Hill, Ottawa, Wellsville and Baldwin City. Meek said the Osawatomie Recreation Commission has a bit of a different setup.

“Everyone around us has one,” Upshaw said.

If the recreation commission ballot question passes, the entity still won’t be able to levy the tax until July 1, 2022, when it is added to the school district’s budget, and the commission won’t see tax revenue until January 2023. In the meantime, Meek said the details of the recreation commission would be worked out, including the creation of a board. The rec commission board would have two members from the city, two from the school district, and one at large.

Officials said the recreation commission would hire a recreation director to conduct daily operations and administer programming.

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