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October 12, 2012

NASH: Has the time come to split the parks?

NEW ALBANY — In Wednesday’s edition of the News and Tribune, New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan announced that he will seek to end the current agreement and create a separate New Albany Parks Department.  

I first heard about the plan the previous evening when Floyd County Council President Ted Heavrin matter-of-factly announced at the close of the monthly meeting that he had heard it through the grapevine. At first I thought that it was a bad idea to split it up, our parks department, but after reading the article it is clear that the county “leaders” are unwilling to properly fund the department.

Earlier this year the two sides debated and agreed that each would pay half of the department’s annual funding. Although this had already been the agreement, the county had not lived up to its obligation with the citizens of New Albany picking up the slack. Now in the upcoming budget that is being considered by the Floyd County Council only calls for a $250,000 allotment for the department this year and that number could possibly be slashed to make up for an expected cut by the state.  

For years we have been hearing from Floyd County officials how tight money is, but also how much better we were doing than other counties. I sat through the Floyd County Council meeting on Tuesday night and listened to county department heads approach the council members and request for additional appropriations. It had been announced that the “Rainy Day Fund” had been depleted so they will have to get creative coming up with extra money between now and the end of the year.  

Some of the people that were asking the council for money were questioned about the actual need for the money. Judge Cody was needing $12,000 for law books for his courtroom, by the end of the conversation he said he could live with only $8,000. These books are published when laws are changed and updated and the court is contractually obligated to pay when the updates occurs. The council members grilled him on the need and the timing of this expenditure.

Judge Orth asked for $400 for a new computer for the office that was created when the Floyd County Commissioners vacated the City County Building. It was clear she had done her homework, finding a refurbished computer that would fulfill their needs for a few years until they could afford a new one. The council members weren’t sure if they could find funds necessary to make such an outlandish purchase and wondered aloud if she could find the funds elsewhere.  

The two judges thought if they put their heads together they could find the $400. If it wasn’t the day before payday I might have walked up there and handed them a check myself.  Yes I might have missed that money for a few months, but if I made a few modest cuts I would have weathered that storm and come out all right. It seemed a little demeaning to me that these two judges were standing before this council and being nickel and dimed.

Others got up and asked for money or announced their intention to request some funds in the future. Some made cases for there budgets for next year. Each was given about the same response that the judges received, everyone except the law enforcement officers.

When I arrived at the new Pine View Government Center the first thing I noticed was the plethora of Floyd County Police cars parked in the parking lot. When I walked into the newly remodeled assembly room with its three large flat screen televisions, the first thing I noticed was a dozen or more armed law enforcement officers in attendance. They were just there to show their support for there own raises.

Lt. Frank Loop stood before the council to explain his position during ongoing contract negotiations.  It seems that over the years the Floyd County Police Department has fallen behind when it comes to their salary. He claimed they hadn’t received a raise in the last few years and thought it was important that they get what they deserve. He wasn’t asking the council for money directly, he just wanted their support, which the council was quick to offer.

Then Sheriff Mills stood before the council and requested $40,000 from the county. I didn’t have an agenda so wasn’t sure what the money was needed for but thought for sure he would explain himself. The funny thing is, he didn’t have to. He was granted the money he needed without having to answer a single question about why he needed it. The only other Floyd County Council meeting I have attended this year, there was a request for some new cars. I don’t remember the dollar amount, but it was almost an identical situation occurred at that time also.

I don’t fault the sheriff for requesting the money or the fact that he came by it so easily, but why is this council so quick to hand over this money, while others have to nearly beg. I am sure that it has nothing to do with the president of the council also being the chief of the Floyd County Police Department, who continues to preside over and vote for money that directly benefits him and his department. Why do the other members continue to allow this to continue?

If the officials in Floyd County can’t come up with the money to fund the parks department properly, maybe it is time for a split. There are many details to work out. It will be tough in the beginning to launch our city’s new parks department, but maybe the time has come. It is clear that Floyd County elected officials have very little intention on doing what is necessary for a vibrant park system in our community.

Matthew Nash can be reached at dmatthewnash@gmail.com.

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