Sides line up over rec center

Where the issue stands: Supporters of a porposed 51,000-square-fooot recreation center in Monmouth-Independence have until July 25 to obtain 1,081 signatures to place the matter on the November ballot



MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Supporters of a proposed recreation district and facility have until Friday, July 25, to gather 781 verified signatures from local residents to place the issues on a ballot measure.

Proponents are circulating two separate initiatives simultaneously, one calling for the creation of the district, and another authorizing said district to place a $7.25 million general obligation bond to construct a multipurpose gym and swimming pool before voters in November.

The two measures are tied together; both must pass in order for either of them to take effect.

Signatures from 15 percent of registered voters in the two cities -- a total of 1,081 -- for each petition must be turned in by next week, said Polk County Clerk Val Unger.

If that standard is met, Polk County Commissioners will meet on Aug. 27 to hold a public hearing, finalize legal descriptions of and add the initiatives to the ballot.

By that time, the cities of Monmouth and Independence must also have given formal consent to the proposals, Commissioner Mike Propes said.

The process "stops if one of them doesn't agree," he said.

Unger said she had received 300 verified signatures as of press time. Another 200 were submitted on Monday, but have not yet been certified.

Advocates for a new recreation facility recently formed a political action committee -- Citizens for a Recreation Facility (CRF).

The organization established an informational web site in mid-June and have a couple dozen volunteers canvassing the towns to aid in the signature-gathering process, Joe Penna, CRF member, said.

"The response we're getting so far has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "We believe we'll be able to attain our goal in the time allowed."

The group seeks to build a 51,000-square-foot complex with a pool, gym, basketball court and other amenities on a parcel off the S-curves along Monmouth Street.

Project cost is approximately $9.5 million; CRF has previously stated that the amount above the asked-for $7.25 million bond would come from grants and donations.

Ultimately, the YMCA or a similar organization would run the center. Some CRF members are involved in government in Monmouth and Independence and are on the board of the Monmouth-Independence YMCA.

Commissioners declined in June a request for an outright formation of the district, which would have submitted a bond to voters.

Following the county's decision, pursuing district creation and bond approval simultaneously through the petition process was our "intent from the beginning and outset," Penna said.

The bond would increase property taxes by 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value during the 30-year life of the levy.

As the effort to form a recreation district continues, so too, does opposition to the idea.

John McGonegal, owner of Monmouth Fitness Club, posted fliers on the doors of his business off Main Street urging people not to sign the petitions because of the potential for a property tax increase.

"I don't like to see government get involved in business and that's what would be happening if the cities and Polk County are contributing in some way to this endeavor," McGonegal said. "They'll be competing with private business."

For more information on the proposed recreation district and facility: www.mirecreation.net.



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