News and Tribune

Opinions

May 5, 2012

OUR OPINION: Mayor's veto sends wrong message

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan decided Monday to veto an ordinance passed last month that establishes a new interlocal agreement between the city and county to fund the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department.

The mayor has the power to veto ordinances passed by the New Albany City Council. But in this case, the veto stamp should have been left in his desk drawer.

After months of meetings, many without the mayor present, the agreement was hammered out by members of both political parties and city and county officials. It was studied by numerous attorneys and passed by three elected boards, unanimously so by the county council and commissioners. It was the start of something new — a sign that the city and county could come to an agreement on something as important as the parks department and work together for the residents.

The new agreement requires equal funding mechanisms to fund the parks to be put in place by Oct. 1 and would be void if either side failed to meet the funding requirements. But according to a News and Tribune story in the May 1 edition, Gahan stated he vetoed the ordinance because the county had failed to honor past parks deals.

He’s right when he says the county had not lived up to the old agreement, initially signed in the early 1990s. According to the administration, the city has paid about $2 million more to the parks department over the past five years than the county. The matter of funding the parks came up last year after the county failed to meet its obligation under the old agreement.

So, the county definitely shoulders a lot of the blame for this ongoing soap opera. But why not cooperate instead of continuing this us vs. them mentality? Why dwell on the past when steps have been made to move forward for the betterment of the residents of the city and county? We do not need this division; we need city and county officials working together to save taxpayers money and provide the best possible living conditions for the residents.

The only way New Albany or Floyd County residents will ever enjoy an outdoor aquatics center or new Little League complex is if the city and county work together to come up with funding. It doesn’t look like that is going to happen anytime soon, especially after the mayor’s latest move.

Without a new agreement — or the $100,000 in additional parks funds which were part of the ordinance recently agreed to by the county council — there will be consequences. Parks employees could be laid off, programs cut and parks may even close. Is that what the residents of this county deserve? Do political games and jockeying always have to be the deciding factor when it comes to quality-of-life issues?

All of these political games have already cost taxpayers in recent years. The merger of the 911 dispatch center would have benefited city and county residents and would have saved thousands of dollars, according to both political parties. But the city council voted it down in 2011 basically because the county didn’t meet its obligation to fund the parks department.

Gahan said the city will continue to fund its share of the parks budget. That is great. But by snubbing this ordinance, what will be the response of county officials? Will the county council provide the extra $100,000 for the 2012 year? Will another agreement be written? What will be the consequences?

“While I vetoed this proposed agreement, we are still currently operating under an agreement which requires equalized funding based on population,” Gahan said Monday. “The city of New Albany will continue to honor our agreements and fully fund the parks department. It is time for the county to do the same for the betterment of all Floyd County.”

That was what the county was trying to do by agreeing to this ordinance, which required them to pay half of the parks funding.

Parks officials have already said there are those in the community waiting to make sizable donations to the department, but will only do so if the city and county can learn to play together. Remember, the Southern Indiana Sports Center was donated to the parks department. Maybe funding for a new pool could be as well, but that won’t happen without cooperation.

If the mayor was so against this or any new agreement with the parks department, he should have sat down with county leaders and hashed out those differences. While he has been mayor for only four months, he was a member of the city council for eight years  prior to being elected mayor.

First District Councilman Dan Coffey has taken his share of hits on this page in the past, but he is dead on when discussing this ordinance and its failure.

“It seems like there’s an us against them mentality that all parties have to get rid of and start working together,” he said.

Amen to that. For New Albany and Floyd County to grow, prosper and provide quality of life options for its residents, the city and county must put politics and the past to rest and do what is right for their residents.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy and Assistant Editors Chris Morris and Amy Huffman-Branham.

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