One of the propositions on Tuesday's ballot is Proposition EPIC, or the Economy, Parks and Investing in Community Proposition. It's an eighth of a cent sales tax in Boone County that would begin Jan. 1, 2015 and would end in 2020.
The ballot initiative has three main purposes. The first is to develop a master plan and develop the area of the 134 acre fairgrounds, known as the Central Missouri Events Center. Then there's the parks and recreation grant pool to fund projects in rural communities. And finally, there is an economic opportunities element, but the specifics of that have not yet been disclosed.
The Boone County Commission is behind the proposition, and District I Commissioner Karen Miller said it's a small investment for big returns.
"We just believe that if all communities have greater value for people to live in, it's more options for people and we think that all citizens deserve the same kind of amenities for their children," she said. "There's really nothing north that's a regional park, and this is a real opportunity […] when you think about an eights cent what that amounts to is 25 cents on every $200 spent."
But not all residents are on board. Steven Spellman is a longtime Columbia resident and a spokesperson for Keep Columbia Free. He said it's an unfair tax and feels it's a bailout for the fairgrounds.
"For 15 years, the commission has run this facility, and they haven't been able to make a go of it," he said. "And now they're saying well give us a lot of money and we'll fix it […] I think you make a plan, and then you go to voters and then we can talk about it and decide. There's too many pieces that haven't been worked out, that voters haven't been informed about."
Miller says the tax will generate about $3 million dollars each year. She said $500,000 of the funding would go towards an annual grant pool to fund parks and recreation projects in rural communities. Five million dollars would go towards the Atkins Tract, and the remaining $10 million would fund the creation a master plan and its implementation. She said the budget needs to be flexible and is not set in stone until the master plan is complete.
If EPIC doesn't pass, Miller said they will need to close the facility, but Spellman said there are other options to fund the project that don't require reaching into taxpayers' pockets.
"One was looking to get together with some individuals in the community whether its 4H groups, FFA groups, equine organizations the fair board and private donations, to get the fairgrounds back on its feet," he said. "The county commission, I guess, wants to keep control of it."
He said he is in favor of parks and recreation, but said using tax dollars to pay for the fairgrounds is not as vital as fixing public infrastructure like sewers, electric and roads.
Miller said the Central Missouri Events Center is booked 40 out of 52 weeks a year, so it has a significant impact on our community.
"We could have done a property tax, but we believe this is a tourist attraction and we believe that when you have something that does hotel rooms and does restaurants and things, that you should use sales tax because our tourists pay for part of that cost for providing them that opportunity to use that facility," she said.