Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton Park Board wants to plan smarter and include the public

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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 capital improvements.

Member Mark 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, for example.

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.

Dickinson concurred 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.”



Posted 5/11/2016




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