News and Tribune

October 20, 2012

OUR OPINION: Plenty of problems to share for parks split

New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan’s justification for wanting to form a separate New Albany parks system is legitimate.

Over an eight year period, Floyd County shortchanged the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Department by about $4 million. This summer, the Floyd County Commissioners declined to vote on forming a cumulative capital fund to aid in expenses with the park, though city taxpayers have been footing the additional levy for years.

The reasons for not living up to their end of the bargain have changed numerous times for Floyd County officials. We’ve been told the money had to be used for murder trials, the county didn’t realize the taxes weren’t going to the parks department and even that the state cut the levy rate.

Those aren’t exactly the practices of an entity most would consider partnering with for any matter that has financial implications.

However, the parks situation is much larger than a simple yes or no vote. Jobs, property and future collaboration with the county must be considered by the city before moving ahead with the divide of the parks system. The New Albany council voted 6-3 to do just that Thursday night, but finalizing the move will require one more vote.

Frankly, Gahan hasn’t been forthcoming with the NA-FC Parks Board about his intentions, at least not in an official capacity. Gahan was one of the few city or county officials who skipped at least one of the joint meetings hosted by the parks board to try to mediate past woes between the entities. Also, no one from the Gahan administration addressed the parks board about the split prior to the measures being placed on the New Albany City Council’s agenda Thursday.

On one hand, county officials never came before the city to announce they wouldn’t be adequately funding the parks department. But the county’s mistake should be a lesson, not a reason to keep the parks board in the dark about what may transpire.

The parks board oversees several employees, some of whom have served this community for 40 years. Gahan owed an explanation to those volunteer board members — whether they agreed with his choice or not — so they could, in turn, inform parks employees.

If he believes in the split, he should stand up for it and look parks board members in the eye. Not to mention it’s October, and if there’s going to be a city parks system in place by Jan. 1, there’s a tremendous amount of preparation and planning that will be needed.

What is the rush? Why not release a plan, get people on board and proceed in 2014. There seem to be too many questions that need answers before the split occurs.

Here are some other questions to consider:

• What would such a divide really mean for the residents of New Albany? Sam Peden Community Park is the city’s largest and most frequented outdoor recreational facility. But the land is owned by the county, so if the split ultimately happens, it will solely be in charge of the park’s upkeep.

After what has taken place in the past, how much do you trust the county to maintain the city’s most sizable park? Floyd County Commissioners President Steve Bush said recently he would not be in favor of selling any of the park land for commercial use, but he’s only one vote.

What if the county decides one day to develop Community Park? New Albany would have very few options to stop the greenspace from being covered with asphalt and residential or commercial buildings if that were to transpire.

• Also, in a time where taxpayers are calling for condensed government, how will Floyd County and New Albany be affected when footing two parks departments?

New Albany taxpayers have already shouldered the biggest part of the parks funding load, but that won’t change when the split happens. Unless New Albany plans to secede from Floyd County, city taxpayers will still be paying for the bulk of parks operations. New Albany residents will be paying for city parks on their own, as well as taxes that will likely help foot a new and separate county recreation system.

The showdown over this issue has spilled over into other arenas as well. The city and county are now in the midst of a legal battle over planning control of the fringe area, and New Albany declined to merge its 911 dispatch operation with Floyd County. The county is the second-smallest county in the state in terms of land area, so shouldn’t we be coming together to cut out duplicated services and costs?

At some point, the city and the county are going to have to cooperate for the good of the residents.

When all is considered, New Albany may have a better chance of garnering a new outdoor pool and a Little League facility on its own. But such a big move as splitting a parks department shouldn’t be rushed into a special meeting with little notice.

Parks are one of the assets companies review before deciding to locate to a community. Just thinking about a warm sunny day in a park with family and friends stirs positive emotions in our minds and souls.

But this whole issue has been anything but warm and fuzzy. It shows incompetence by the county and lack of respect by the Gahan administration for the employees and board members who have served the parks system.

— 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.