Sales tax for parks, soil and water to be on August 8 ballot

Friday, July 14, 2006

By Lynn A. Wade

Nevada Daily Mail

In August, voters will have the opportunity to say yes or no to an extension of the state's parks and soil conservation tax, a 1/10th-cent sales tax that funds state parks and specific soil and water conservation activities.

Ron Coleman of the Missouri Parks Association said the money's "for parks, soil and clean water." The tax was first enacted in 1984 by initiative petition, and has been overwhelmingly renewed by voters twice since then.

Coleman said the tax is vital to maintaining two of Missouri's largest industries -- tourism and agribusiness.

Coleman said the tax, appearing in the form of Amendment I on the August ballot, is "absolutely" dedicated to the parks and soil and water conservation and can't be re-appropriated for anything else.

Half of the revenue from the tax funds state parks; the rest goes to individual counties for soil and water conservation.


Coleman and information provided by the citizen's Committee for Soil, Water and State Parks, noted that 75 percent of the funding for Missouri's state parks and related programs is from this sales tax. The rest, he said, comes from grants and user fees. The state currently provides no other funding for parks.

Coleman said he's not sure what would happen in the parks system if voters said no to the proposal, but said the change would be "traumatic" and that it would be a "serious situation" indeed for parks funding, reiterating the importance of parks and parks activities to Missouri Tourism.

Some nearby Missouri parks include Harry S. Truman State Historic Site in Lamar, Stockton State Park, Nathan Boone Homestead State His-toric Site and Prairie State Park near Liberal.

According to the Mis-souri Parks Association, Missouri's parks lacked funding even for basic maintenance prior to the tax, but by 1996 -- with funding in place for 12 years--Missouri's state parks had become among the state's most popular tourist attractions

Soil and water conservation

The other half of the 1/10 of one cent sales tax goes to combat the "serious problem of soil erosion" and to promote water quality in Missouri, Coleman said.

Each county in Missouri has a soil and water conservation district. The Vernon County Soil and Water Conservation District is headquartered in Nevada.

Local officials in each district determine the budget and the funding needs to help sustain needs in the area and to assist farmers in protecting streams from run-off, according to Coleman.

"The citizens decide in each county to determine how the funds will be distributed and used," he said.

In Vernon County, many services have been provided to farmers and other residents, through the Vernon County Soil and Water Conservation District.

"You don't have to be a farmer. We'll work with anyone who has an erosion problem," said Anthony Wolf of the VCSWCD.

Wolf said the district works to help educate local residents and to coordinate soil conservation practices and deal with run-off issues.

The district helps formulate grazing systems; andm to address soil erosion, the district assists with putting in waterways and terraces.

"We do a few ponds to help prevent gulleys," Wolf said, and have put quite a lot of effort into sowing grass into crop land. "That's one of our biggest soil-savers."

Efforts assisted by the VCSWCD also include pasture enhancement, rotational grazing, putting fertilizer and clover into pasture so that grass root systems thrive and help retain the soil.

Wolf said the district also offers a variety of community education classes, such as a grazing school, informational meetings that keep local producers up-to-date on soil and water conservation practices and more.

Proponents of the tax say that on the state level, the soil erosion rate has been cut in half since the tax was first enacted in 1984.

At that time, Missouri's erosion rate was the second highest in the nation, but as of this year, erosion control efforts have saved more than 148 million tons of soil.

Proponents of the tax say that everyone benefits from soil and water conservation, and that doing so is necessary for in order to have productive agricultural lands in the future.

"A decrease in soil productivity could negatively impact the Missouri economy, which heavily depends on agriculture. In fact, agriculture is a $4.97 billion industry for the state," said a press release.

The parks and soil and water conservation tax would expire in 2016, when it could again be renewed by voters.

This tax does not fund the Missouri Department of Conservation, which has its own 1/8-cent sales tax.

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