Pete White saw the City of Oklahoma City parks budget go up and down during his time as Ward 4 City Council member and he’s ready to see that stop.
The solution? He urges voters to approve the 1/8 cent sales tax initiative that would provide permanent funding for the City’s parks.
Oklahoma City residents will have the opportunity to cast their vote for/against the tax during the Super Tuesday primary vote taking place Tuesday.
“I’ve been an advocate for parks for a long time,” White told Free Press in a phone interview Friday.
He said that the four MAPS temporary taxes have been good for building defined capital improvement projects. But, there’s a catch. How will the city maintain those projects once they are built? It will have to come out of the City’s general fund which fluctuates with general revenues.
“You cannot expect to put operation maintenance and programming on a temporary basis,” said White. “You want to put programming in a way that it can sustain itself.”
“I’ve seen it over and over again,” said White. “Parks is the first to get their budget cut and the last to get it restored, and that’s after a real fight to get money put back in.”
He said the dedicated tax would provide a protected source of revenue that would allow parks to create a higher quality of life for residents of the City.
Residents request better parks
Ward 6 Councilmember JoBeth Hamon told us that “parks have been underfunded for many years and could benefit greatly from dedicated revenue.”
And the residents from her ward have been asking for better parks.
“Even though I haven’t even been in office one year, I’ve received regular and consistent inquiries and requests from Ward 6 residents for park upgrades, improvements, and programming that aren’t part of a bond or MAPS program and the Department doesn’t currently have the capacity to absorb with their current budget,” said Hamon.
“The millions of dollars this tax would generate would make a noticeable impact on the quality of life for those utilizing our parks in neighborhoods across the city.”
97 out of 100 cities
White cited a study done for 2019 by the Trust for Public Land that ranked Oklahoma City 97 out of 100 cities in the United States for effective park systems.
The four areas of study that made up the study were: access, acreage, investment, and amenities.
Oklahoma City’s parks ranked lowest in access measured by the portion of residents who lived within a ten-minute walk of a park.
The City had the highest rating when it came to amenities meaning dog parks, hoops, etc.
The study showed that only 4% of the city’s land was used for parks. The national median is 15%.
One factor of the ranking was the presence of public restrooms which allows people to stay at a park as long as they like instead of needing to leave as soon as there is a need for a restroom break.
The tax will allow maintenance for more park restrooms.
Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper told Free Press in a phone interview that the main goal for the tax is to provide free programming for children, youth, and adults in the City’s parks.
He said that many cities now charge a fee for participation in their parks programs and that is something Oklahoma City residents do not want to do.
Kupper added that many parents in Oklahoma City simply would not enroll their children and youth in summer programs because they would not be able to afford the fees.
“We want to bring better programming especially in during when school break is out so that parents can have their kids come to our facilities and be in a safe environment, virtually a controlled environment, where they get enrichment,” said Kupper.
“While they’re there, we would like to be able to have the resources to take kids to some of the attractions that they may not normally be able to go.”
He said the athletic leagues being operated at the parks are on a shoestring budget at present. The tax would allow for a more full athletic program for the parks.
For more information
The City of Oklahoma City has a faqs page on its website with the basics of the proposal showing how the initiative petition worked that brought about the tax and how the tax would work.
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