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Saturday, August 30, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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Recreation taxes are investment

Last Modified: Thursday, May 01, 2014 11:49 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The people who live, work and play in Lake Charles and Ward 3 of Calcasieu Parish will be doing themselves a favor Saturday if they vote for two tax propositions designed to enhance recreational opportunities. Seven parks and the citizens who use them will be the beneficiaries, and all areas of the ward will be well-served.

Six tax renewals on the same ballot are also vital for continuing support of School Board, Lake Charles, drainage and waterworks programs. All but one of the taxes would be renewed for 10 years. The exception is a one percent sales tax in Lake Charles that would be renewed for 25 years. It was first approved in 1964 for capital improvements.

The recreation taxes are new. The first would give Recreation District 1 of Ward 3 authority to issue $16 million in bonds to finance improvements at the seven parks. The bonds would be paid off in 10 years or earlier with proceeds from a 3.3 mill property tax. The second proposition is a 5.5 mill, 10-year property tax to raise nearly $3.3 million per year to operate and maintain the parks.

Anyone living in Ward 3 who hasn’t visited the multi-sports complex operated by the recreation district on Power Centre Parkway hasn’t seen the crown jewel of the seven parks. The complex opened Sept. 16, 2009. It features an indoor walking track, weight room, two full-sized basketball courts, concession areas and men’s and women’s locker rooms.

Its baseball and soccer playing fields have been hosts for university soccer championships and some of the major youth baseball tournaments in the state. Those and other events generate approximately $16.5 million to the local economy each year. The total over the last eight years is estimated at $149 million.

The proposed taxes will make it possible to add an outside walking track and bike path at the complex, an Olympic swimming pool, improvements to existing facilities and RV parking in the baseball area.

The recreation district also operates two other parks — the Enos Derbonne facility at 7903 Lake St. and the Pryce/Miller center at 216 Albert St. The three parks were constructed after voters in 2004 approved a $9 million bond issue and 4.0 mill maintenance tax. In 2011, Ward 3 Recreation was renamed Lake Charles-Ward 3 Recreation, and those three parks now have 18,000 members.

If the two millage taxes on the Saturday ballot are approved, the district will take over operation and renovations at four city parks — Martin Luther King Park, Second Avenue Senior Center, Huber Park Sports Complex and the University Recreation Complex. That will put all recreation in the city and ward under one umbrella, which means less duplication and greater savings for taxpayers.

Kip Texada is executive director of the recreation district. He and his staff run an efficient operation that is enhancing the quality of life for many ward residents who haven’t had access to the opportunities available at the Power Centre multi-sports complex. It is closer to their homes. Continuing maintenance operations and tough enforcement of rules and regulations have kept the facilities in great shape. A board composed of outstanding community citizens oversees the district’s operations.

I have exercised there for over a year and have met hundreds of new residents and formed some close friendships. Those of us who use the weight room pay a $10-per-month fee, but the track and other facilities are free to residents of Ward 3.

Approval of the two taxes will make it possible to add an indoor walking track and exercise room with cardio and weight equipment at Enos Derbonne Complex, an exercise room at Pryce-Miller, a new senior center at Second Avenue and numerous renovations and improvements to all seven recreation facilities.

The Chamber/Southwest Louisiana has endorsed the taxes. George Swift, president and chief operating officer, talked about the reasons why it supports the propositions.

“One of the big factors that we at the chamber always pay close attention to is quality of life,” Swift said. “Parks and recreational opportunities are important to not only satisfy the needs of our current residents, but it also is key to our regional businesses who are recruiting new employees and their families. Those people want to know they are moving to a locale that is geared towards positive life experiences.”

If the two taxes are approved, the improvements planned for the seven parks will create recreation facilities similar to those in Sulphur and Ward 4. They have earned a reputation of being among the finest in the South.

Recreation plans on the drawing board for Lake Charles and Ward 3 will serve the community well as it looks forward to the more than $60 billion in industrial construction planned for Southwest Louisiana.

Companies that are investing here and their employees want recreation facilities that cater to families and improve their quality of life. Each of us needs to look at the recreation taxes as an investment in the future well-being of our community and its children and grandchildren.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

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