At the Norfolk City Council working session over the noon hour Monday and again during the regular evening meeting, several people asked the council to split the four projects up individually or into two instead of combining them in the $68 million bond issue.
The half-percent sales tax proposal would include an indoor aquatic facility at Winter Park and upgraded and more ballfields at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park, along with more campsites, pickleball courts, more parking, restrooms and concessions stands. Those two projects would qualify as recreational.
The final two projects, expanding and renovating the Norfolk police station that was built in 1986, and an accelerated street program focusing on improving intersections and some of the worst streets, would be categorized as public safety.
Jim McKenzie, one of the citizens who spoke against the bonds, said increasing the city sales tax by one-half percent for 20 years would put the city in a “dire financial” position.
“Any other projects that come up for the next 20 years after this will require a property tax increase or an additional tax — no question,” McKenzie said. “The city is out of spending bullets.”
McKenzie said he also questions the survey the city used in 2018 if it truly represents what the citizens want. There was nothing in the online survey that required citizens to be from Norfolk, and with 40% of those supporting the aquatic facility, that’s less than 1% of the population with the low number who participated in it, he said.
If the schools thought there was a major need for the competition pool — and the schools will be the main users of it — wouldn’t they have passed something with funding for it themselves? McKenzie asked during the noon hour meeting.
“If you’re going to put this on the ballot, and this will be the last thing I say, divide these projects up. If the citizens truly want them, put them on the ballot individually so the citizens can choose what they are willing to support and what they are not willing to support. Don’t hold certain projects hostage for the other projects,” McKenzie said.
Olivia Matteo said she also questions if the survey was big enough to get the sentiments of the people.
If it truly is a citizen-driven issue, Matteo said, then it should be broken into four areas or pull the safety aspects out from the recreation parts.
With inflation and utility bills going up, the additional sales tax will have an impact on those on limited incomes, she said.
Brenda Test said she has lived in Norfolk for over 30 years and questioned why this is being put forth now. Among other things, she questioned whether there would be adequate parking at Winter Park and if people wouldn’t park in nearby residential areas.
Test said prior to the council voting that if the council were to put it before voters, the four projects should be put forth separately.
But those who spoke in favor of the half-percent sales tax said the recreational aspects could greatly benefit Norfolk.
The proposed water facility would cost about $32 million, including contingencies. It would include a competition pool with seating for 600, a year-round recreational facility with a lazy river, and a couple of water slides and water features for all ages.
Sharon Harthoorn of Norfolk said she would like to have the water park for when her children and grandchildren come to Norfolk. Now, many times they go to Kansas City, she said.
They pay for a hotel and go out to eat, she said. In addition, the YMCA has a great pool, but there are a lot of activities there, so there isn’t always time for the community to come in and swim laps, Harthoorn said.
Nicole Sedlacek, NPPD economic development manager, said an impact assessment was put together based on what the ball park and aquatic center improvements could do.
Based on past tournaments and what the new facilities could do, not taking into account the campground, which is frequently full, the study found that it would bring in $4.7 million in annual visitor spending. It would create up to 107 additional jobs and then have an additional $12 million in secondary effects, Sedlacek said.
It would bring up to 30,000 visitors who would come to the community, she said. Sedlacek brought a copy of the report for each of the council members.
Jami Jo Thompson, Norfolk Public Schools superintendent, said while the city isn’t building the projects for the schools, city officials have been working with school officials during the planning.
“We are very supportive of the proposed recreation plan,” Thompson said.
Besides the economic impact, it would help both the public and private schools, which have combined swimming and softball teams, she said.
“Our schools cannot afford to build softball facilities or a competition swimming pool without a bond issue, which would increase patrons’ property taxes,” Thompson said. “Therefore, we are looking forward to the possibility of entering into a cooperative partnership agreement with the city to use these facilities for an appropriate fee, which would assist the city’s increased operating costs.”
The schools already partner with the city for softball and contributed half of the costs for the recent concrete improvements at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park, she said.
Jerrett Mills, Northeast Community College athletic director, also spoke in favor of putting it before voters.
Mills said the college has partnered with the city to improve the baseball field at Memorial Field.
The next proposed improvements will help Northeast Community College to show their recruits and help to attract regional tournaments and possibly even a national tournament. It would help to make Norfolk a destination city, he said.