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Point of View: OKC park tax would raise quality of life

Nancy Anthony
Nancy Anthony

On Tuesday, Oklahoma City voters will decide on a proposed sales tax that would generate about $15 million annually for parks, ensuring all our neighborhoods and communities have safe and accessible green spaces to promote wellness and quality of life.

This one-eighth-cent sales tax for maintenance and programming would go hand in hand with the millions of dollars voters have already invested in parks. Just last year they approved MAPS 4, which includes $140 million in capital funding for new facilities, such as gardens, basketball and tennis courts and new parks.

Tuesday's vote could be a shot in the arm for the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, which is funded through a small portion of the city’s general fund, which is also the primary revenue source for police and fire protection, street maintenance and other essential services.

After considering all those critical needs, it’s easy to see why the city’s parks and recreation programs are underfunded. How underfunded? In 2019, Oklahoma City budgeted $9.5 million for 4,590 acres of parks as well as trails, gardens, aquatic centers, nature centers, athletic facilities and recreation centers. By comparison, Kansas City budgeted $72 million and Fort Worth budgeted $43 million.

If budgets from peer cities are an indication, health and wellness are a growing priority in this country, and the standard is high because parks are important to everyone. The mom with a stroller. The dog walker. The little league softball player. A group of teens meeting for basketball. An elderly couple walking to stay healthy. The dad watching his son enjoy the playground.

When properly maintained, these popular public spaces provide a safe activity hub for individuals, families or groups to improve their quality of life. A great neighborhood park is a free and open space that encourages creative play, active lifestyles, rejuvenation and the development of athletic skills. Green spaces also can offer enjoyable, restful places where people can alleviate stress, enhance their well being and improve their quality of life.

Meanwhile, parks can be good for a community’s economy. Studies show that a well-kept park can increase nearby property values up to 20% because homebuyers prefer houses that are close to green spaces. Therefore, parks improve property values and increase property tax revenue. Parks also decrease health care costs and support productivity by encouraging exercise.

Once again voters have an opportunity to advance Oklahoma City through a measure that would ensure city parks are well maintained and rich with healthy activities. Are they ready to make another investment? We’ll find out Tuesday.

Anthony is president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation (www.occf.org).

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