EDITORIAL | Recreation plan taking shape

By The Mercury

There’s a lot to like at this stage in the planning of enough parks and recreation facilities to meet the needs of all but Manhattan residents who had their hearts set on a new indoor pool.

Among highlights of a projected $27.5 million package are adding considerable indoor recreation space — basketball, volleyball, etc. as well as walking tracks — at both Anthony and Eisenhower middle schools. The package also will include an overhaul of the athletic fields at CiCo Park, complete with turf instead of dirt infields, and constructing a dozen tennis courts. There’s more in the form of trail improvements at CiCo Park and elsewhere in the city.

Meanwhile, recreational facilities will be added at the Douglass Park facility, ensuring greater options in all areas of the city, courtesy of more than $3 million in federal funding.

Residents might or might not like the staggered construction approach city commissioners seem inclined to deploy, but most will appreciate the fact that it will save millions of dollars in borrowing costs. As presently envisioned, work at Eisenhower will be done in 2020, followed by work at Anthony in 2021 and then the outdoor projects at CiCo Park in 2025.

Residents will be asked in November to approve these projects and the .25-cent sales tax that will pay for them. They might balk at the tax, bit can take some consolation in knowing that this issue won’t raise their taxes — or at least won’t feel like a tax increase. That’s because, again with voter approval and some formal paperwork, the quarter-cent sales tax for the rec facilities would begin when the city halts (a year ahead of schedule) the existing quarter-cent tax voters approved almost a decade ago. The switch would occur April 1, 2018. In most parts of Manhattan, the sales tax would remain 8.95 percent.

If that sales tax levy once seemed unthinkable, a few things worth remembering are that voters have had a direct say in part of it for dedicated purposes, and that Manhattan’s sales tax is in the middle range of comparable Kansas cities.

One issue that merits more attention from planners involves ensuring a good balance between operational costs and revenue. City residents won’t pay a daily use fee or buy an annual pass to use the rec centers.

At a work session last week, Mayor Usha Reddi expressed a reasonable concern that tournaments and other activities needed to attract revenue might limit access to Manhattan residents. However, Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, sought to allay that concern, saying, “We need to be consistent with gym space available to our community and citizens first and foremost.”

Given that local citizens would be paying for the facilities, that’s the proper approach.

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