KC parks board discusses how to use new tax money

Kansas City parks officials said Friday that they will soon seek a consultant to evaluate community centers.

That will be one of the first concrete results of voters’ decision Aug. 7 to support a half-cent sales tax increase dedicated to Kansas City’s parks and community centers.

The sales tax will generate about $30 million for park operations, $3 million more annually than the department had been receiving.

The Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners held a special meeting Friday to mark that victory at the polls and to begin discussing how to spend the money.

“There’s a lot of good momentum,” said commission chairman Jean Paul Chaurand, noting that the board’s top goal has been to achieve a dedicated, stable funding stream for parks.

Deputy director Steve Lampone said the department will soon seek proposals to assess community centers to make sure they’re operating efficiently and providing good programming.

Chaurand agreed that it’s incumbent on the department to “make sure our community centers are operating at the highest quality.”

The department also plans to reinstate a parks inspection program that gained high marks between 2003 and 2009.

The program, called SHAPE (Safe, Healthy and Attractive Public Environments), provided inspectors to identify graffiti, trash and other problems. It led to dramatic improvements in restrooms, playground equipment and park appearance, but it recently fell by the wayside because of staff and budget cuts.

Park officials said they are eager to resume that program, as well as to expand community center hours, enhance programming and increase flower bed plantings throughout the city.

Parks director Mark McHenry noted that the sales tax increase won’t begin until January and substantial improvements won’t become apparent until the next budget year, beginning May 1. He said that before then, the city hopes to hire about 40 employees to support parks and community centers.

Park commissioners said they were gratified and somewhat surprised by the wide margin of victory for the sales tax increase — 63 percent to 37 percent. It even passed in the Northland, which typically has been more opposed to taxes.

Commissioner Dave Mecklenberg, who lives in Clay County, attributed the outcome to strong support from Northland Neighborhoods Inc., the Northland Chamber of Commerce and a host of neighborhood leaders.