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Investment in Parks Political Suicide?

Article Date: 
4 March, 2011 - 06:00

A lively debate ensued in the county council when an item about the upcoming plans for parks was raised on Tuesday.  Member Ronda Kippen who has the portfolio assignment on the council for parks brought forward items to inform the council of plans for a bowry at the park in the Cottonwoods and also identified manpower gaps for the care of the parks.  The county has recently had turnover in the jobs that have traditionally maintained the parks and now is faced with the dilemma of how to address the needs as spring approaches.
Member Robert Kilmer said, “Politically…talking with Don [councilmember Mathews] and Ned [councilmember Mecham] on our roads.  The situation we are in there… I read through this parks and police plan, and according to that plan, it says we should have sixteen law enforcement officers, we have ten.  I look at the condition of our roads.  You can’t drive up and down them without about losing the front end of your car… I understand that this [the money budgeted to spend on the park improvements] is restricted funds and I am not insinuating that we should spend this on anything other than this, but politically I have a hard time throwing $65,000-$70,000 into a park because the people out there aren’t going to understand that those are separate funds that have to be spent for specific things.  And since we have some time I would rather that we spend our time and efforts trying to solve essential services and I don’t consider a park an essential service.”  Kilmer expressed the view that he would like to see the council’s time spent on getting the emergency services and police equipped and staffed.  He continued, “By no means am I saying that we should redirect funds out of these impact fees.  I am just saying, politically, I think it is suicide for us to go out there and do this kind of work before we take care of our essential services.”
Chairman Kelley disagreed, she said, “It is a balance issue… There are services that are absolutely essential services that have to be provided and then there are wants and needs.  The community determines what they want provided for.  They determine what is absolutely essential and what maybe they could live with or without.  There was a commitment made that they wanted parks, they wanted trails.  You can see that in the general plan… That area [the Cottonwoods] specifically has said that they want walking trails and parks and that they are willing to pay for it…It is a process, we have money stipulated for South Morgan Valley Drive, Federal money with a 20% match for 2012, next year.  I realize that in the downtime there is a lot of potholes…I am well aware of the conditions of the road…People still want parks… This is money that is in there…We have a parks board, a recreation board, a fairgrounds board.  They all give us a list of their needs and we look at it, assess it, and see what we can use to pay for those needs as they come up.”
Impact fees are charged to individuals as they build in the area.  Within the impact fees are designated amounts that can only be spent for specific purposes.  One of the designated areas of the impact fees is for parks.  Once the impact fees are collected these funds cannot be used for other purposes.  It is the expenditure of these restricted funds that can only be spent on parks that Member Kippen had brought before the council.  Member Kippen also reminded the council that additional approval for these projects was not needed since the approval was given when the budget was passed for 2011.
The issue of how to support the parks for both maintenance and additional amenities did not reach a conclusion in the meeting.  Member Kippen received direction from the council to explore outsourcing opportunities for the maintenance and hire temporary workers where necessary.
It seems clear from the discussions, and passion surrounding it, that this topic will be revisited in the council in coming meetings.  Several of the council members expressed the view that they would like to revisit some of the plans for the parks and take a fresh look at what the priorities will be.