Officials say proposed tax would be parks’ life raft

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Officials anticipate that funds generated from a possible sales-tax increase would be a prime cache for capital projects many cities had to put off during severe budget crunches a few years ago.

The proposed countywide eighth-cent increase, dubbed Parks for the Future, is designed to raise money for county parks maintenance and upgrades in the next 25 years. If approved by two-thirds of county voters on the November ballot, the tax would generate up to $16 million in annual revenue.

The county would take 42 percent of the funds, with another 6 percent going to special parks districts such as the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District. The remainder would be divided among the cities, each of which would take approximately $200,000 each, with most cities set to receive additional money based on population.

County and city parks departments suffered in the economic downturn following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with many cutting staff and services in that time. San Mateo cut approximately 15 percent in operations and programs, Parks and Recreation director Sheila Canzian said. Millbrae, meanwhile, had to brown out two of its neighborhood parks, City Manager Ralph Jaeck said.</p>

But officials say the proposed tax would be a much-needed life raft.

Should the tax pass, Burlingame plans on using the funds for improvements to restrooms, playgrounds, fences and ball fields, Parks and Recreation Director Randy Schwartz said. Though 600 residents surveyed in spring identified a new recreation center as a high priority, it will likely be impractical to use the $300,000 expected from the sales tax revenue to build one, Schwartz said.

A new recreation center could range anywhere from $12 million to $30 million, depending on whether Burlingame needs to purchase extra land. The sales tax revenue could be used for furnishings and maintenance at a new recreation center in the future, but officials want to focus on a citywide bond measure for storm-drain improvements and seismic upgrades before discussing that issue, Schwartz said.

“It’s such a small fraction of what we’d need,” Schwartz said.

Burlingame enjoyed a $650,000 capital improvement project budget before 9/11. It dipped as low as zero and climbed back up to $220,000 this year. The additional sales tax revenue would bring it closer to pre-9/11 figures but would still leave the city short of ideal, Schwartz said.

In San Carlos, Parks and Recreation Director Barry Weiss says the expected $300,000 can be used as leverage to encourage community fundraising or to apply for state and federal grants. The city is looking in particular to fund $2.5 million remaining in Arguello Park upgrades, the first phase of which finished in May.

“Even though $300,000 isn’t a lot, we can try to turn that into a lot more,” Weiss said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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