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A community survey on park, recreation, and community facilities

Even with all that Marshall has to offer, we know that we are still missing certain community facilities that could further the city’s stature as a regional center.

The city has begun the design process of a new aquatic center with the hiring of a pool architect/engineer, and as part of that process, community input and funding discussions are being planned. When discussing how best to fund the aquatic center, the city discussed the potential of doing more than an aquatic center if the funding mechanism selected has the capacity to pay for it.

In order to determine community opinions beyond those of vocal minorities/interest groups and to ensure that we are hearing from residents across all demographics, the city will undertake a statistically valid, random sample survey of residents (the “community survey”) in order to better gauge the true level of desire and willingness to pay and the specific types of facilities most needed by our residents.

Past surveys the city has conducted have indicated that Marshall is missing family entertainment, additional recreation options and lacking reasons to visit Marshall. Specific facilities and amenities mentioned in addition to an aquatic center have included an indoor playground, soccer field expansion, indoor field turf and sport center, senior center improvement, pickle ball courts, trail development and expansion.

Further, ever since the city lost its only bowling alley, it is routinely mentioned as a need in Marshall. In addition to these, the city has also begun discussions with the Marshall Area YMCA on collaborations on not only programming but the facility itself which is currently in need of $5 million in needed upgrades.

Regarding funding of city projects, cities have very limited authority to bond/borrow for park and recreation capital improvements without approval by the voters through a general election referendum.

Due to the size and cost of most of the identified facilities, the City would likely be required to bond/borrow for most of the larger improvements, if they are to be built in the relatively near future. Saving additional tax dollars or other revenues in advance for those improvements, rather than borrowing, would mean that it could take a significant number of years (upwards of 20) to build out some of the items on the list.

Saving and paying-as-you-go for improvements would also not require a referendum. With a local option sales tax, state statute authorizes cities to enact such a tax only upon affirmative approval by the voters at a general election, with subsequent approval also required by the State Legislature. Such sales taxes must be used for capital improvements, with the sales tax expiring when the debt on those projects has been fully paid.

Studies have illustrated that a local option sales tax for city improvements result in lower tax impact to Marshall taxpayers as a whole (at a given level of revenue), when compared with an equal increase in property taxes. Current sales tax rate in Marshall is 7.375% (6.875% statewide tax, plus current City of Marshall sales tax of 0.50%). The additional tax as a result of the city’s 0.50% sales tax amounts to $0.50 (50 cents) for a $100 purchase.

The next steps in the community survey process will be further refining the priorities for the future by conferring with small groups and pertinent organizations to ensure we ask in the survey the most publicly supported projects. We hope to complete the survey in late August or early September.

Just as water, sewer, and public safety are considered essential public services, parks are vitally important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life in a community, ensuring the health of families and youth, and contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of a community and a region.

There are no communities that pride themselves on their quality of life, promote themselves as a desirable location for businesses to relocate, or maintain that they are environmental stewards of their natural resources, without such communities having a robust, active system of parks and recreation programs for public use and enjoyment.

Should the city make investments in the above-mentioned park and recreation facilities and if so what types of funding would you support? The answer to these questions is what we hope the community survey will tell us.

— Sharon Hanson is the city administrator for the city of Marshall

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