News and Tribune

October 29, 2012

Commissioners respond to newspaper’s editorial

Local guest columnist

FLOYD COUNTY — This column comes in response to the recent editorial regarding the city of New Albany’s decision to split from the New Albany-Floyd County joint Parks Department.

The Board of County Commissioners believes this decision is shortsighted and does not represent the best approach or best interest for all of the residents both city and county. However, the city council passed a measure to re-establish a city parks department and is set for a final vote Nov. 5 regarding leaving the joint parks system. While we strongly disagree with the decision to split the parks, we will respect the decision of the city’s elected officials and move forward with our own preparations.

In moving forward, the Board of County Commissioners has started the process to establish a county Parks Department. The board will work with the county council and current joint Parks Board on this matter and a draft of the county’s plan will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners at our next meeting Nov. 7 for consideration and action.

Among the items in this plan is the future operation of Sam Peden Community Park. The editorial board raised the question of trust with the question: “How much do you trust the county to maintain the city’s most sizable park?”

The County Commissioners understand and appreciate the importance of Community Park being maintained and operating for all residents of the community, both city and county. That is why the County Commissioners deem it their duty and responsibility to ensure its future viability and function as a top-notch park.

Sam Peden Community Park has been in existence since the 1960s and will remain a park. Critics undoubtedly will mention the county’s efforts last year in requesting proposals for the redevelopment of the North Annex property which is adjacent to Community Park and occupies 18 acres of frontage along Grant Line Road and in front of Community Park. Two proposals were received and rejected last year by the Board of Commissioners due to its size, scope and impact on the adjacent Community Park property.

From that process, a conceptual plan had been discussed with the Parks Board regarding the integration of the North Annex building into a possible new aquatics center. Preliminary discussions were halted on this capital project while the new funding arrangement was being worked on by the city, county and parks officials this spring.

Regarding this issue of trust which the editorial board raised about the county’s commitment to Sam Peden Community Park, it is interesting to hear that the city administration was already working on the plan dissolving the joint park system while members of the respective elected bodies of the city, county and members of the parks board were working toward finalizing and voting on a new agreement.

On the night of the city council vote last week, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan stated that his administration has been working on this matter for eight months and was still preparing the new city parks plan. It was during this same time period that meetings regarding the new agreement were being conducted. It would appear that the matter of trust and transparency works both ways on this issue.

Also, it must be noted to date the city administration has not presented a plan to the public, parks board or the city council for consideration or comment.

On the issue of taxation raised in the editorial, it was implied that city residents would be “shouldering the biggest part of the parks funding load.” This statement that the city residents would be paying both for city and county parks systems is simply not accurate. City residents pay a city tax levy for parks and county residents pay a county tax levy for parks separate from their respective general funds. Since funds for the parks department come from separate levies and not the general fund, there is no double taxation taking place in any funding scenario for the parks.

The Board of County Commissioners can’t alter the path selected by the elected officials of the city. It can only respond by developing a plan in which the best interest of the public in terms of outdoor recreation is met and top-notch facilities, programs and services are offered as they were by the joint parks board.

The Board of Commissioners did work with the county council, city council, parks board and members of the public throughout the spring to come to a mutually agreeable solution to continue the work of the parks board and its employees.

However, during that time of collaborative work and compromise, city officials had already chosen another path. Time will tell if it is the correct path.

Sincerely, The Board of County Commissioners

— Stephen A. Bush, Charles Freiberger, and Mark Seabrook

Editor’s note: Bush and Freiberger are up for re-election Nov. 6.