Parks face 53-percent funding cut

Commissioner Lohnes says National Trail needs no money from county.

Commissioners John Detrick and David Hartley verbally agreed to appropriate $38,000 to the National Trail Parks and Recreation District to fund recreation programs.

They also will give the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s Community Improvement Corporation $12,000 to maintain National Road Commons park.

The agreement, which commissioners are expected to vote on next week, is 46 percent more than the $26,000 Detrick proposed for NTPRD last week, but it is 68 percent less than the $80,000 commissioners originally budgeted for the organization last month.

Detrick, a Republican, said the $38,000 agreement is part of a compromise he and Hartley, a Democrat, reached.

“Parks and recreation needs some support because of the many citizens using it. We would like to provide more, but we’re very tight in the budget,” Detrick said. “This recognizes the quality of life (parks and recreation) provides citizens in our community.”

In a 2-1 vote, Detrick and Hartley agreed last month to appropriate $80,000 for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District with the caveat the organization take care of lawn care and snow removal at the National Road Commons park developed last year by the CIC for $2.5 million.

But Hartley balked after learning that maintaining National Road Commons plus taking on the park’s water and utility bills would cost NTPRD $12,300 annually. As a result, on Feb. 7, Detrick proposed the county reduce appropriations for the organization to $26,000 with “no strings attached.”

Hartley said the new agreement is an improvement, but is still not enough to meet NTPRD needs.

“It’s not $80,000. It’s not $240,000. But at least it’s something,” Hartley said. “It’s not enough to support their programs, but it will help. Parks are important to economic development, and I think it’s extremely important that we support National Trail.”

National Trail operates on $4 million annually, CEO Tim Smith said.

The organization lost $280,000 annually in funding from the county two years ago, and received $1.1 million in funds from the city, down from $2 million a few years ago.

Asked Tuesday about the reduction in appropriated funds, Smith said his organization appreciates any funding commissioners provide.

“The last two years, it’s been zero. We’re not looking at it as from $80,000 to $38,000. We’re looking at as from zero to $38,000,” Smith said.

Smith said that because of funding constraints, the organization has cut full-time staff from more than 40 employees about six or seven years ago to 28 now.

Additional funds from the county will help the organization offset costs for the recreation division, such as activities, supplies, equipment and staffing, he said.

Smith said if NTPRD had received $80,000, the district would have expanded programs and added more games that were cut previously.

Commissioner Rick Lohnes, a Republican, remains against using county funds for the organization.

Voters recently approved a 0.6-mill, 5-year tax levy for NTPRD and the Clark County Park District, which will generate $390,000 for the park district and $1 million for NTPRD to maintain green space.

The funds cannot be used to support recreational activities, but Lohnes said the organization doesn’t need additional money.

He also questioned why Detrick and Hartley pushed to fund NTPRD, but did not seek additional funds for Clark County Park District.

Lohnes said CCPD receives fewer levy funds and is expected to get $48,755 in state local government funds this year, down from the $68,581 the organization received in 2010.

“That’s about $20,000 less,” Lohnes said. “If recreation is so important to economic development, why didn’t we ask for any money for the county park district?”

Hartley said National Trail provides services to many county residents and its programs should be supported with county funds.

CIC Vice President of Economic Development Horton Hobbs said the $12,000 commissioners appropriated for National Road Commons park was much needed.

“It’s going to help us maintain the park for the year,” Hobbs said. “Maintenance was the one area where additional assistance has been sought, and the county commissioners provided that. But we still need a long-term solution.”

Lohnes said he’d like to see an organization that takes care of parks maintain National Road Commons park.

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