Proposed Shawnee Co. sales tax hike would benefit Gage Park, Topeka Zoo & Discovery Center

13 News at Six
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 5:18 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A county-wide sales tax increase will be on the general election ballot for Shawnee County residents.

Supporters of the “Vote Gage Park” campaign gathered outside the Topeka Zoo Tuesday to brief the media about the proposed 0.2% sales tax increase.

For those in Shawnee Co., the question will read:

Shall the following be adopted?

Shall the Gate Park Improvement Authority be created and supported through the levy of a 0.2% countywide sales tax to benefit Gage Park, the Topeka Zoo and Kansas Children’s Discovery Center?

Countywide Question

Voting yes would be in favor of adding a 2/10ths of a penny sales tax to make multiple improvements for the Topeka Zoo’s infrastructure, add more exhibits and educational opportunities at the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, and preserve the beloved amenities of Gage Park such as the train, carousel, the rose garden and more.

Topeka Zoo Director Brendan Wiley says that if approved, the 2/10ths sales tax would allow the park the ability to transition away from public funding through property taxes and would alleviate the tax burden on Shawnee Co. taxpayers.

“Like every public park, everywhere, Gage Park gets public funding,” Wiley said. “Right now, the zoo and Gage Park engagements are largely funded through property taxes. On the November 8th ballot, Shawnee Co. voters will be asked to instead consider a 2/10ths of a penny sales tax to replace most of those property taxes. With 2/10ths of a penny, we can transition away from property taxes and reduce the property tax burden by more than 2 million dollars a year. We can also broaden the tax base so that Shawnee Co. taxpayers are not bearing all the public funding costs related to Gage Park. "

As for Gage Park improvements, it would expand the trail system, improve the playgrounds, and the overall park infrastructure, according to the Shawnee Parks and Rec. director, Tim Laurent.

“It will allow us to improve and expand our playgrounds, our trail system, really the infrastructure of the park,” Laurent said. “In short, the Gage Park plan would give families and children more reason to be at Gage Park and spend time in this beautiful location.”

The plan will even allow the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, located in Gage Park at 4400 SW 10th Ave., to invest in new exhibits, educational activities, and programs for kids.

“We know that play based learning sparks interest in science, technology, engineering, math; engaging children’s natural curiosity and laying the groundwork for STEM is, absolutely, critical to help thrive in school and in the workforce,” according to the Discovery Center President and CEO, Dené Mosier. “The Vote Gage Park plan will allow us to invest in new exhibits and educational experiences for parents, children, and teachers.”

During Tuesday’s announcement, Willey also shared the potential return (in its earliest planning stages) to bring back an exhibit.

“We often hear that the memories that Shawnee Countians have coming to the Topeka Zoo...to see things like monkey island, polar bears, memories that span generations,” said Wiley. “Our master plan [displayed to my left] is focused on several improvements that will continue to develop a world class zoo here in this community, and even the potential of returning polar bears back to the Topeka Zoo.”

Voting ‘no’ for the plan would mean that funding for Gage Park would continue to be funded through property taxes.

The registration deadline to vote is October 18. Click HERE to access the Kansas Online Voter Registration website.