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October 10, 2012

Gahan: New Albany-Floyd parks should be split

Issues over funding, public pool and Little League park among reasons he wants city-only setup

(Continued)

NEW ALBANY — County, parks board reaction

Fundamentally speaking, it doesn’t make sense to separate the parks system, Floyd County Commissioners President Steve Bush said.

“I don’t have a problem with [the city] being frustrated, but to split the parks, it’s probably not going to be best for the residents as a whole,” he said.

There’s also much to be determined in terms of what a divide would mean, Bush continued.

He said it still needs to be confirmed, but he’s been told the agreement requires the Southern Indiana Sports Center to be given back to its original owner if the county and city split the parks department.

The Southern Indiana Sports Center was donated to the department in 2006 by the Blue Sky Foundation, and the administrative parks offices are housed there.

NA-FC Parks Superintendent Roger Jeffers and parks board chair Scott Klink declined to comment on the situation until after they address the full board on the possible division next week.

Though the split may not be popular for the county, Bush said he would not favor filing a legal injunction against the city to halt the move.

“We’re not going to get into the game of suing,” he said.

The biggest park in New Albany — Sam Peden Community Park off Grant Line Road — is owned by the county. No matter what the city does, Bush said the county will support the parks, as he added he would not back selling Community Park for commercial interests.

“If they decide to make that decision and move forward, we’ll sit down with the current parks board members and see what can be done,” he said.

Funding issues

Floyd County Council President Ted Heavrin said the reason the current proposal is to only fund $250,000 of the parks budget next year is due to financial constraints. The expenses of murder trials, infrastructure costs and the possibility the county’s budget could be cut for 2013 have left the council with some tough decisions to make, he continued.

“They don’t realize how much money the county is putting out for everything,” Heavrin said.

But as was the case this year, Heavrin said the council told Jeffers it would likely appropriate more money after the county budget is certified by the state, which could be in February or March.

“If we don’t have to cut [the budget], we should be OK,” he said.

But City Councilman Dan Coffey — who will sponsor the measure to end the joint agreement — said the county has had ample opportunity to commit and honor its funding requirements.

Coffey was one of five city council members that voted in favor of a new parks deal in April that would have required equal funding to be put in place by each entity by Oct. 1.

If the funding wasn’t approved for the parks department, then the contract could be voided.

Though proponents of the agreement — which was passed by the county commissioners, county council and parks board —said it included tougher language than the existing contract, Gahan vetoed the deal. He said there was already a contract in place that called for equal funding, and that the county needed to make restitution for the past shortfalls before a new deal could be reached.

Though the council voted 5-4 to override Gahan’s decision, six ballots in favor are needed to overturn a mayoral veto in New Albany.

Coffey also voted in favor of overriding the veto, but said his stance has changed due in part to the $250,000 funding commitment made by the county next year for parks. He added that he met with Bush and Gahan over the issue, and asked Bush to support a cumulative capital fund, which he did not.

“That was the final straw,” Coffey said. “I could see at that point in time there was no real effort.”

But Bush countered that he approached Gahan requesting negotiations to resolve the differences, but hasn’t spoken with him about the matter in several months. He said both sides should meet and attempt to save the current structure of the parks department.

Bush added the county should fund the parks equally, and foot its requirement of $500,000 next year.

But Gahan said another issue is the amount of people who cast decisions on the parks. Essentially 30 people — the mayor, three county commissioners, nine city council members, seven county council members and 10 parks board members —are involved with parks issues and votes, Gahan said.

“The bureaucracy there is just too heavy,” he said. “We’re convinced that the current model needs to be changed.”

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