|The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune
May 20, 2009--City voters going to the polls Tuesday supported renewing the 2 percent hospitality tax by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.
With all 18 precincts reporting and all but approximately 675 "late early" and provisional ballots counted, voters approved the tax on hotel stays, restaurant and bar purchases by a rate of 68.7 percent to 31.3 percent. Preliminary, unofficial results as of 9 p.m. Tuesday show 5,844 votes in favor of Proposition 100 and 2,664 votes against it. The tally included more than 7,000 mail-in ballots that had been counted earlier this week.
City spokesman Greg Hyland described the mood at the elections office as "exuberant. A lot of people were going to be out of a job if it failed."
"I'm excited to get over this hurdle," said City Administrator Mark Watson, "and get back to the business of doing what the people want us to do to make this an even better city."
The tax, levied on hotels, restaurants and bars, is expected to raise $4.5 million this year. The revenue has been used to subsidize the Yuma Civic Center and baseball complex, fund the promotion of tourism and help support Yuma Crossing projects and special events.
In addition to renewing the tax for 15 years, Proposition 100 also amended a previous version of the tax to provide that a minimum of $2.5 million be spent on citywide Parks and Recreation, a minimum of $600,000 be allocated to the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area (within city limits) and a minimum of $400,000 be provided to promote conventions and tourism. Any additional funds collected from this tax can only be used for those three purposes.
By expanding use of the revenue to parks and recreation citywide, the tax will help fund construction of new athletic facilities and park near Arizona Western College, a 120-acre Yuma East Regional Park off 32nd Street and Avenue 6E, a new 13-acre park in the Yuma Valley, completion of the West Wetlands Park and enhancements to the East Wetlands Park.
"Now that we have decided this, we can move on and start working on the facilities that people have said they want," said Mayor Larry Nelson. He said going into the election, he was cautiously optimistic of the outcome, given the feedback he received "from the guy on the street saying we have to have it."
In addition, he thinks the users of the facilities came together to support the measure. "I think the users saw we need it."
The outcome also is a tribute to the city's Parks and Recreation Department, he said. "I think we have the best parks in the state. Now we can start looking at the parks we need."
In the end, he said he believes it will be a "win-win" for the community. For one thing, by having regulation-size soccer fields, the city will be able to host tournaments that will be bring people to town who will support businesses and pay the tax.
While not surprised by the vote, Nelson was surprised at the turnout for the special election, given that it had only one ballot question -- the future of the hospitality tax.
"It's something people were passionate about, those who were for it and those who were against it. Fortunately, more wanted it. That's what our system is all about."
The final vote count will be provided later in the week. Results will become official once canvassed by the Yuma City Council, most likely at its June 3 meeting.
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