What the community wants and how to fund it

Recently, some residents have requested specific information about funding for building new recreational facilities. This indicates that city staff needs to do more public education about this issue and how the Parks and Recreation Facilities Master Plan fits into the overall process currently underway.

Background

In 2015, Susan Richards Johnson and Associates completed a Comprehensive Facility Assessment of the Irene B. French Community Center that provided three options for moving forward with the aging facility:

  1. Infrastructure repairs to the existing facility with minor renovations to improve building flow
  2. Demolish a portion of it and renovate the existing community center
  3. Build a new community center

In spring 2014, Larkin and Associates conducted a similar assessment to explore future scenarios for the Merriam Aquatic Center and its infrastructure concerns.

Results of the studies made it apparent that something needs to be done with these facilities, and that developing a Facilities Master Plan would be a critical next step. Public input plays a large role in working toward the Plan’s completion, and during the process, staff has gathered much data about what the community wants — what types of facilities residents want, and even the types of features the facilities should include. The Master Plan and recommendations will be presented to Merriam City Council on December 12, but no council action will taken until the January 9, 2017 council meeting.

Where support is limited

Recent survey findings have provided valuable information about what the community wants. These findings were presented in the past couple of blog posts. This post will look at areas where support is limited. The best indicator of this can be found responses to the following three survey questions:

  1. If a new aquatic center is developed, which includes features you chose as most important, how often would you or other members of your household use the facility?
  2. If a community recreation center is developed which includes features you chose as most important, how often would you or other members of your household use the facility?
  3. It is likely municipal bonds would be required to finance the development of a new or renovated community recreation center. Please indicate which option you would most likely support the City taking?

Findings showed that 36% of respondents stated they are not sure if they would visit, and 22% indicated they would visit a new aquatic center less than monthly even if it included features deemed most important.

Regarding the community center, 58% were not sure if they would visit and 49% said they would visit less than once per month. National benchmarking statistics indicate that 70% of a cities’ population would not use facilities similar to those discussed. Merriam’s survey responses are greater than benchmarks, so it’s important to delve deeper into the data based on household demographics.

Regarding an aquatic center, households with children under 10 had the lowest percentage of usage certainty at 6%, while household 55 and older were most unsure at 63.3%. Those who would visit less than monthly ranged from a low for households 55 and older at 13.5%, to a high among households 20 – 54 with no children at 34.7%. Clearly, families with children still in the household say they would use it most.

As for a community center, once again households with children under 10 had the lowest percentage of uncertainty at 17%, while households 55 and older were highest at 37.7%. Those less likely to use it monthly were households 55 and older (20.1%), to a high among households with children 10 – 19 (24.1%).

The funding issue

The next factor to consider is the funding question in which five options were presented: increase local property taxes, increase local sales tax, increase a combination of property and sales tax, no increase in taxes, or unsure. This data reveals that those unsure ranged from a low for households with children under 10 (18.5%) to a high among households 55 and older (27.6%). Those unsupportive of any increase ranged from a low in households 20–54 with no children (16.8%), to a high for households 55 and older with no children (27.1%).

Unsurprisingly, the issue of funding could become controversial. Upon completion of the Facilities Master Plan process, staff and City Council will have a clearer understanding of the costs associated with construction, but also the needs and support of Merriam residents.

At the end of the master planning process, staff will recommend a facilities concept and a funding strategy. If the funding strategy includes issuing bonds, staff will recommend an initiative that requires a vote for the public residents to voice their support and decide how to proceed.

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