It was a night for sparks to fly again as parks were once again on the agenda at Morgan County Council.
The council conducted a work session on Tuesday night near the end of the county council meeting. Member Ronda Kippen, who has responsibility for the county’s parks as a part of her council portfolio had asked for direction from the council on providing maintenance at the county parks.
Kippen asked whether there was support from the council to review the seasonal part time supervisor, for which the county budgeted, and consider a full time position with greater responsibilities year round. Kippen suggested that a position that included responsibility for the parks, the fairgrounds, and the facilities for the county might be a better approach. She expressed the view that this full time position would be a better investment for the county because there would be less turnover and other holes left in the organization by the elimination of the council administrator position would be filled.
Council members in considering Kippen’s proposal expressed some interest. Kippen was asked to frame the position with human resources and return with a concrete plan for the council to consider.
Kippen also reported on information relating to outsourcing the maintenance of the parks. Kippen had received a verbal bid for mowing the parks of $80,000 for this season, more than twice the county’s budget and more than twice the cost the county paid last year for salaries of seasonal employees in this function. Member Kelley reported on a bid received within the last two years for maintenance on the Kent Smith Park. The bid was for approximately $68,000 and included mowing, lawn care, and fertilization. “That seems huge,” commented member Lyle Nelson, “I am willing. I’ll do it for $80,000.”
The discussion then turned to expenditures on parks. Member Robert Kilmer said, “Member Kelley, you keep indicating that we need to discuss parks. I would like us to discuss parks, identify the needs, and then we can identify what manpower we need to meet those needs. So let’s start there… let’s go park by park, see what each park needs. Let’s evaluate that.” Member Kippen indicated that the needs for the parks had already been evaluated and a plan set during the budgeting process in 2010. Member Kilmer replied that there were members of the current council that wanted to revisit the decisions from the prior council relating to parks.
Member Nelson also reiterated an item on the Cottonwoods Park. He had conducted calls to residents in the area and indicated that the residents did not want restroom facilities in the park. He questioned whether there was sufficient public input into the current parks priorities.
The Parks board expressed frustration with the council. Former councilmember Karen Sunday said, “I would like to make a correction to member Kilmer’s remark. It was not myself or the council that these budget requests and items for the park came from…it was your constituents. It was the citizens by way of your parks advisory board. Your citizens out there that knows dang more about these parks than you folks do or than I did at the time… The parks boards are your eyes and ears for the county parks. They know the needs. They are there at the parks. They know what needs to be done, what repairs need to be made, what happens… That is where this budget came from. It’s not from the previous council, it is from the parks and the parks board and the people that know…. I am mad as spit tonight. I am very very disappointed that the parks board was not invited to a work session that the council was having concerning funds about the county parks.”
Member Kilmer replied that he was not trying to diminish what the parks board has done. He was simply suggesting that the new council would like to review the priorities currently set for the parks to see if they remain the highest priorities.
In the end member Kippen was given direction to proceed with requesting bids for the care of the parks as well as advertising for the temporary summer crew to maintain the parks. It appears from the early bids that the less expensive option will be to hire seasonal workers to perform the maintenance. There also seems to be support from at least four members the council to review the priorities for the parks and revisit whether the current plan is the best use of funds for the needs of the parks.