Gainesville residents who today enjoy access to 22 parks, the civic center and a number of recreational facilities can thank voters who made it all happen in a special election more than 90 years ago.
Those voters approved in 1924 a small property tax rate increase that in fiscal 2018 is expected to raise about $3.1 million. Through the years, the tax has helped to build and maintain the facilities many enjoy today.
When Gainesville city officials earlier this month rolled out their new $34.1 million general fund budget that goes into effect July 1, City Manager Bryan Lackey told The Times that not one dime of it goes to the Parks and Recreation Department.
Property taxes make up 59 percent of the almost $5.4 million needed by park officials to operate in fiscal 2018. The second largest revenue generator is charges for services, which is expected to bring in almost $1.8 million, or 33 percent of the total budget. The remainder of the budget is $395,529 from reserves.
The goal of park officials is to increase the percentage of revenues from fees charged to 40 percent of the total budget.
“That’s our goal and it’s been our goal,” department spokeswoman Julie Butler Colombini said Wednesday. “We try to be as accessible and affordable as we can ... We want to serve the community in the way they want to be served.”
The Frances Meadows Center Aquatic Center, located at 1545 Community Way, attracts more than 200,000 visitors and is the biggest draw for Parks and Recreation. Aside from pools, including a 10-lane competition pool, and water play stations for children, the complex has a fitness and wellness center and other amenities for families.
Colombini said the civic center operated by the department brings another 100,000 visitors annually. She said an estimated 700,000 visitors use parks and recreation facilities annually.
“It’s a big economic impact generator for the city,” Colombini said
Although city property owners will pay less taxes overall under the new budget, Lackey said the city will have to advertise a tax increase because of the 1924 decision.
The special tax in the books for the past 93 years requires that not less than 0.75 mill nor more than 1 mill be collected annually for parks and Recreation services.
A full rollback of the millage rate would result in less than the 0.75 mill required by the special tax, so a 1.42 percent tax increase is needed to maintain the minimum level, according to Lackey.
A mill is the unit used by taxing authorities to determine the property tax rate. One mill amounts to $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. A homeowner levied 1 mill on a $200,000 property would pay $200 in taxes.