Voters in Sunset Hills to eye sales-tax hike

Funds would go toward park, recreation, stormwater improvements


To provide funds for the expansion of parks and recreation and needed stormwater projects, Sunset Hills residents are being asked to approve an additional half-cent sales tax.

Proposition P, which will appear on the April 3 ballot, would have a life of 20 years and would generate $750,000 to $900,000 per year to fund upgrades to the city’s parks and stormwater system.

Mayor John Hunzeker has said the ballot issue for a sales-tax increase will be more beneficial than asking for a property-tax hike because a vast majority of the people who shop in Sunset Hills do not live in the city.

An estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of people who shop in Sunset Hills live elsewhere, according to city officials. Hunzeker also has said that the additional half-cent sales tax would not penalize any shoppers in Sunset Hills because it would be near the tax levels of other nearby cities.

If approved, the new sales tax would raise Sunset Hills’ overall sales-tax level to 7.325 percent from 6.825 percent.

The additional half-cent sales tax from Prop P then would make the city’s overall sales tax equal Kirkwood’s 7.325-percent sales tax while still being lower than Crestwood’s total sales tax of 7.575 percent.

Twenty-seven municipalities in St. Louis County already have passed such a measure, according to Friends of Sunset Hills Parks, a group that is supporting Prop P.

Friends of Sunset Hills Parks also say that approval of Prop P would allow for “the purchase of additional park land, the renovation of existing facilities, construction of additional walking paths/trails and construction of new athletic fields.”

Information from the city indicates that Prop P funds would provide for additional construction of facilities that would link the city’s parks to the “entire city.”

Some benefits from the half-cent sales tax would include stormwater upgrades to Tributary B near West Watson Road, the expansion of Minnie Ha Ha Park and a river walk alongside the Meramec River.

The city made strides in December to expand Minnie Ha Ha Park when city officials purchased StL Dream Fields for $255,000.

The 16-acre, four-diamond baseball facility at 1355 W. Watson Road was a privately owned field. Besides buying StL Dream Fields, city officials approved the purchase of 18 acres of undeveloped land east of Minnie Ha Ha Park. That area to the east is planned as a way to expand the city’s biking and hiking trails while also connecting it to Rott Road and the baseball fields.

Minnie Ha Ha Park, now 25 acres, could now be expanded to have as much as 59 acres of recreational use.

Aldermen also took steps in November to improve the city’s stormwater system. The board approved a $115,000 stormwater study on Nov. 14 that will help determine exactly where improvements are needed in the city. At the moment, Tributary B near West Watson Road and Tapawingo National Golf Course are two that have been identified as projects by city officials.

And after previously estimating that more than 60 percent and possibly as much as 80 percent of the revenue from the proposed sales tax would go to park improvements, city officials have said those figures might change based on the results of the stormwater study.

While also waiting for conclusions from the approved study, city officials also are continuing to look for grant funding through the state and the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to make improvements to stormwater systems.

Before placing the half-cent sales tax proposal on the April ballot, aldermen originally wanted voters to decide in February.

Hunzeker’s initial reasoning was that some voters might be influenced by the aldermanic races in April and therefore would be more likely to vote against the proposal in April than in February — when there would have been no other matters for voters to decide. The mayor also previously said with a traditionally lower number of voters turning out in February than April, the likelihood of people going to the polls simply to vote against a proposal would not be very high in February.

But to save money that would have been spent with the cost of an election in February and then in April, aldermen voted 7-0 on Nov. 28 to place Prop P on the April 3 ballot.

Ward 4 Alderman Donald Parker, who is seeking re-election on April 3, was absent.