By MATTHEW NASH
Let me preface this column by saying there is no bigger supporter of our parks than me. I have been a vocal cheerleader for them almost from the time I began writing this column. I believe that over the last few years we have fallen behind surrounding communities because of Floyd County government failing its citizens and refusing to properly fund the department. Long serving members of the county council have not lived up to an agreement that has been in place for nearly two decades.
Two weeks ago In this column I wrote that maybe the time had come to end the current agreement and have separate departments for New Albany and Floyd County. I do not think this is the best solution, but Floyd County leaders had released their budgets and they had again not provided the funding in their budget that the combined parks department needed.
County Council member Dana Fendley responded to that column with a letter to the editor that was printed in Wednesday’s edition of the News and Tribune. She announced that despite the amount that was allocated in the 2013 budget, the Floyd County Council intends to live up to their obligations. Why should we believe that her and her colleagues will do the right thing? Why should the parks department have to come and ask for money that they need to operate?
For the past several years the leaders of Floyd County have not done the right thing. It is estimated that the city of New Albany has paid nearly $2 million more toward the combined parks department than Floyd County. The 2013 park’s budget has been set at $250,000 about half of what is required based on the current agreement.
New Albany taxpayers also pay into a cumulative capital fund that contributes more money above what is budgeted. This money goes toward special projects for the parks department. The Floyd County Council voted on the additional tax a few years ago but it was defeated. The Floyd County Commissioners refused to consider it this year, especially since two thirds of them were up for re-election. The new tax would cost taxpayers an estimated $5-$8 per year. County leaders don’t think that they are obligated to match these funds, it seems that they have a different idea of “equal” than you and I do.
In her letter Ms. Fendley claims “Floyd County Council members were not on the council when the funding agreement was initially drawn up, and were only made aware of the details of the agreement earlier this year.” She must not be a regular reader of my column because I brought it up a few times last year. Mayor Gahan also brought it up during negotiations for combining the 911 center. As the president of the city council last year, Mr. Gahan refused to support the plan until some sort of restitution could be made for past funding inadequacies.
Ms. Fendley goes on to say “We can’t change what happened in the past…” I tend to disagree with that assessment. If I only paid about half of what I was suppose to in property taxes over the last four years can I just send them a letter and say I wasn’t around when they decided what my tax would be? I was unaware of what I was suppose to pay so I just paid what I could afford. I can’t change what happened in the past but catch me next year. I have budgeted for about half of what you require, but if you come and ask me for more, I will see what I can do.
If any of the elected officials in Floyd County say that they were unaware of funding inadequacies in the parks department until this year, they are either lying or just don’t care. A simple search will find request dating back several years from park’s officials. Ms. Fendley has been a member of the county council for nearly six years serving from 2005-2008 and again from 2011 to the present and for part of that time she was vice president of that board. How have they been coming up with the amount that was budgeted over the last few years? Did they just pick an arbitrary number out of thin air?
The New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department is one of the only combined city/county parks departments in the state of Indiana. Of course it is also one of the smallest counties in land area which probably lends itself to a combined department. So far the experiment has not worked very well and from the way it appears it doesn’t look like it will improve in the near future.
One thing that is lost in the argument that many elected officials don’t seem to realize is that citizens who live in Floyd County, within the city limits of New Albany pay taxes to both groups and already pay more for our parks department than we should. I am under the impression that many members of Floyd County government believe that they only represent the people of Floyd County that live beyond the boundary of New Albany.
I am a resident of New Albany and Floyd County. I believe that a vibrant park system with great facilities adds to the lives of all citizens. It is time that the leaders of Floyd County began to understand this fact. For far too long the priorities of our elected officials have revolved around the murder trial of a single individual and the incarceration of criminals in our county. It is time that the taxpaying citizens of New Albany and Floyd County begin to reap the benefits from the tax dollars we pay.
• The deadline for this column was before the New Albany City Council vote on the separation of the NA-FC parks department on Thursday night.
— Matthew Nash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org