With the old one paid off, St. George will vote on a new $29M parks and rec GO Bond
On Nov. 21, St. George voters will decide whether or not to approve a new general obligation bond to fund 33 proposed projects for parks, trails and other recreation sites around town. It would essentially replace a similar, 1995 bond that funded many of St. George’s current parks and trails. The city made its final payment on that bond in August.
On the city’s list of proposals for the new $29 million bond are five new parks and significant renovations or expansions at existing parks — such as replacing playground equipment and adding restrooms, performance stages and shade structures. In addition to adding new trails, it would also connect some of the city’s 70-odd miles of existing trails to each other.
Because residents have already been paying for the previous bond, the city said this one would not impact how much they pay in property tax. They estimate the average annual cost of around $32 per household would stay the same
But not everyone sees it that way.
During a recent public hearing about the bond, resident Erika Hodges voiced her opposition to the amount of spending involved, specifically related to the tax burden on residents. Even though the new bond may not raise the amount people pay on their property taxes, she said approving it prevents an opportunity for tax relief.
“Someone mentioned that parks are good for our mental health, which I agree [with]. But what else is good for our mental health? Freedom. Freedom from excessive taxation,” she said.
Another question was the bond’s total cost after interest. The $29 million figure is the total amount the city receives to spend on projects. Because it would be paid off with interest over a 25-year term, the city estimates the cost will end up being $45.9 million.
St. George communications and marketing director David Cordero said voters will need to decide whether or not they want that trade-off. If approved, he said, the city expects to complete the new projects in about seven years. Without it, many wouldn’t happen at all, he said, and those that did might take even longer and include fewer amenities.
“If we didn't have the bond, it's unlikely that we'd be able to do a lot of the new projects beyond kind of the bare minimum,” Cordero said.
Other residents, including Dana McCabe, said the money may be better used for other things the city needs, like hiring police officers or building new fire stations. She also worried about where the money would come from to keep up the new parks the bond would build.
“How will these be maintained? There's got to be additional costs that are not included in this $29 million,” McCabe said.
Cordero acknowledged that funding can only go toward new projects. So ongoing upkeep like mowing the grass or trimming trees would have to come from the city general fund. The city’s current budget allocated just under $108 million for the general fund and expects 16% to go toward parks and community services.
For many of the proposed projects, such as an existing park that has its playground replaced, Cordero said the bond might not end up increasing maintenance costs much beyond what they are today.
Many at the public hearing were in favor of the bond. Ally McQuivey said the voters who passed the previous bond in 1995 helped make the city a great place for families like hers today.
“They had the vision to see what it could be, and they had faith that it would be great. And I've benefited from that and I would like to keep carrying it forward.”
She recounted a recent trip her family took to another state when they had to pay $40 to use a skate park for a day — an amount she said was more than what they currently pay to use all of St. George’s parks and trails for an entire year.
Wendi Bulkley, who also supports the bond, hopes its impact goes beyond the projects listed in the proposal.
Based on her experience working at the community center in nearby Washington City, she’d like to see some of the money go to build a similar center in a part of St. George that doesn’t have one. Especially for low-income families who might not be able to afford other attractions, she said, it’s important to have safe places for kids to play.
“I just feel like not just outside, but also indoors, we need spaces that are safe,” Bulkley said.
The city can’t take a public stance on the bond, but Cordero said it’s pretty easy to see the positive impact the previous bond has had in St. George.
It’s been an economic driver for the city, he said, allowing it to carve out a niche as an outdoor recreation destination that brings in both visitors and new residents who want to take advantage of the parks and trails.
“It was a real game changer for our city,” Cordero said. “One of the best parts of living in St George is having access to that.”
Now, it’s up to today’s residents of St. George — where the population has quadrupled since the 1990s — to decide whether or not they want to keep funding parks and trails in that same way for the next 25 years.
Ballots will be mailed to Utah voters starting Oct. 31 and Election Day is Nov. 21. Voters can find more details about the St. George general obligation bond on the city’s website and more information about voting at vote.Utah.gov.