Washington park board members Thursday expressed concern at the amount of cuts to capital sales tax projects proposed by the department.
Voters in Washington in April will vote on an 8-year renewal of the city’s half-cent capital improvement sales tax. The tax could generate between $12.6 million and $15.1 million.
At the Nov. 28 capital improvement sales tax committee meeting, Parks and Recreation Director Darren Dunkle presented a number of projects totaling $13,490,000. Dunkle and other city officials revise the list and dropped the total to $8.7 million.
City Administrator Darren Lamb attended Thursday’s park board meeting to review the revised list with the board. Lamb said the biggest savings was reducing the cost of a proposed parks maintenance building.
Lamb said the original plan was to build a new parks administration building, but instead plans were revised to move the parks offices to the city auditorium. By doing that, the old parks offices would be used for storage dropping the cost of a maintenance facility from $1,645,000 to just $200,000.
The new parks offices would be tied into the auditorium/aquatics complex project. Lamb said the city wants a full-time tenant in the auditorium and it makes sense to tie that facility’s improvements into ongoing discussions for a new pool.
The aquatics complex/auditorium project also dropped from $7,500,000 to $6,350,000. Lamb said the sales tax committee would review this project, in detail, at its Dec. 19 meeting and invited the park board to attend.
Parks projects eliminated by city staff included the Burger Park restoration, a sign replacement program, a main park playground replacement and an irrigation system for Ronsick Field. Lamb said the irrigation would likely be tied into the American Legion’s request to renovate Ronsick Field.
Other projects like a playground for Phoenix Park ($500,000 to $250,000) and a renovation of the Riverfront Park ($750,000 to $250,000) were reduced. Lamb said the idea behind the reductions was that those types of projects could be done in phases.
Lamb also said the city traditionally has had success having civic organizations donate funds for new projects. He said with the city offer to start the project, it would likely be easier to fundraise for additional funds.
Concerned With Cuts
Board members and City Councilman Mark Hidritch questioned some of the choices.
Park board member Dan Cassette, who also serves on the sales tax committee, reiterated his comments from Tuesday’s meeting. He said he didn’t favor phased projects because “the city never finishes anything.”
Hidritch also questioned the projects in which funding was cut in half. He said the Phoenix Park project should be fully funded.
Hidritch said he gets calls all the time from people wanting a playground in the area. He said the residents have been waiting for years for something and it shouldn’t be something the city puts on the backburner.
Board member Tessie Steffens said she understood the sales tax isn’t just for parks projects and doesn’t want to be greedy, but didn’t understand why so many projects were getting cut. She said a number of the projects have been requested by the park board for a long time and keep getting cut.
Steffens said the parks department routinely gets the short end of the funding stick. She said the department doesn’t have enough help, while at the same timing have high expectations for its facilities, but also doesn’t get funding for those facilities.
Board member Bill Kackley said he “100 percent” agreed with Steffens about how the parks department is funded.
Hidritch pointed out one of the proposed projects was $200,000 for pavilion work. He said when he first became a councilman, he came up with the idea to charge a small fee to rental the pavilions and said the idea was that the money generated would be used to maintain the facilities.
Hidritch said the money hasn’t been used for that purpose. The money is instead deposited into the general fund and not earmarked for any specific project.
Lamb said none of the decisions were final. He said the committee is still debating what projects to cut and what to support.
Lamb encouraged park members to come to the capital tax meetings. The committee is meeting on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at city hall.