A year ago, one of
the hot-button issues raised by Dane Lafata and Nate Cobbs in their
successful campaigns to be elected to the Chesterton Town Council was the
state of the town’s parks: among other things, both drew attention to the
age and quality of the playground equipment at Dogwood Park.
As it happens,
Lafata and Cobbs were still in the run-up to the general election when, in
October, the Town Council at the Park Board’s recommendation approved a
$2-million general-obligation bond issue specifically to finance a number of
high-profile facilities improvements, including the installation of a new
playground at Dogwood and a splash pad at Chesterton Park.
So it’s not the
case that the Park Board is--or was--unaware either of a demand in the
community for park improvements or of the need.
Yet even so there
is on the board an emerging restlessness, a desire to be more proactive, to
think more stratetigically, and--especially--to include the public more
intimately in the long-term planning process. That eagerness to do was on
evidence at the board’s May meeting, when members returned to the question
they first broached in January: Where do we go from here?
To that question,
however, they appended a corollary: How can we afford to get there?
The occasion of the
discussion was Clerk-Treasurer’s Stephanie Kuziela’s presentation on the
Park Department’s 2016 budget, which projects total revenues--including
local property-tax revenues, miscellaneous state-tax revenues, and shelter
rentals--of $393,003.59; and total expenses of $394,110.
For the board’s
newer members, the real surprise was the amount of annual expenses consumed
by personal services, that is, wages, health insurance, pension, Social
Security, and overtime: $290,000 or fully 74 percent. The balance of
expenses are related to day-to-day operations: gasoline, repair and
maintenance, utility, postage, telephone, and such. In other words, there’s
really no funding at all in the department’s annual budget for anything like
Dickinson put the question pretty simply: “How can we get more money?”
Kuziela’s blood-from-a-turnip reply: by increasing shelter fees or asking
the Town Council for a bigger budget. Neither approach, however, is ever
going to raise sufficient moneys for strategic building or expansion. As
Kuzeila noted, that’s why the board pursued the $2-million bond issue in the
first place, because there’d be no other way to buy the new playground gear,
So we can bond
again? Dickinson asked.
No, Kuziela said,
the Park Department’s bonding capability has been exhausted, until the
current 10-year issue is retired.
So how can we get
more money? Dickinson asked again.
Town Council Member
Cobbs, R-4th--now the council’s liaison to the Park Department--suggested
that maybe the cart was being put in front of the horse. Find a particular
use for the money, then seek a revenue source. “I would challenge the
Park Board,” he said. “Show us what you want to do. Come up with a plan, a
purpose, a project. What would you do with more funds? Figure out what we
want to do next and then we can figure out how to fund it.”
For Paul Shinn the
next step is clear: a public input session, well advertised to attract as
many residents as possible, to assemble a clearer picture of who uses the
town’s parks, what they’re used for, what folks would like to use
them for, and how the board might be able to anticipate future demand and
plan for it now.
with Shinn. “We need to schedule a special meeting on possible future
projects,” he said.
“I think you guys
are doing the right things right now,” Cobbs suggested, then repeated a
point he made on the campaign trail last fall, namely, that private funding
sources do exist in the community to make good ideas a reality. “There are
angels out there, if there’s a good project but no funds for it,” he said.
“They are listening.”