CARBONDALE — The future of a few Carbondale parks is up for discussion Tuesday night at the Carbondale City Council meeting.
The City Council will have a joint discussion with the Carbondale Park District Board of Commissioners regarding a few leases of city-owned parks to the park district. Currently, Turley Park, Tatum Heights park, the Piles Fork Greenway path, Evergreen Park and parts of the Carbondale Superblock (outside of the Super Splash Park) are leased to the park district, but owned by the city.
As a condition of these leases, the park district is responsible for maintaining the parks in good order, condition and repair. Additionally, the district has the authority to develop programming for public use of the parks. The leases on Turley, Tatum Heights and Piles Fork Creek have expired. The lease on Evergreen runs through October 2066 and the Superblock lease runs through November 2021.
According to the city, the district still continues to maintain the three parks with expired leases. City Manager Gary Williams and Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro, along with the park district’s attorney, met in January to discuss the terms of the leases. At that time, the district proposed an extension of the leases for the three parks for an annual stipend of about $150,000 from the city to the district.
The city says the stipend would cover the district’s costs to maintain the three properties. Apparently, the city has plans to involve Piles Fork Greenway path already, so Williams suggested it may be in the best interest of the city to take over management of the creek.
Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said Tuesday’s discussion is to find out what the district wants to do moving forward because the sentiment is that the district wants to turn the properties over the city.
“I just want to be able to discuss it,” he said. “With our budget, I don’t know where we are going to come up with $150,000.”
He said there isn’t a good way for two public bodies to talk to each other, so it was decided to do it in an open session where the public can engage if it wants. The city is in talks with Carbondale Junior Sports, which wants to play most of its games at the Superblock. Henry said the city has the baseball diamonds and additional fields to accommodate the organization and it would have a great economic impact for the city.
According to city’s budget projections for the next year, it would cost the city about $320,955 to start a parks division. That includes one-time purchases like buying vehicles, picnic tables, chip-sealing roadways and purchasing other equipment the city doesn’t have, according to Williams.
He said a conservative estimate for the city to maintain the parks on its own after the first year would be about $173,000. He also said the city isn’t in the parks business, so it is possible it could become more efficient over time and reduce its costs.
Renfro said the district is aware of some maintenance that has been deferred and the current budget doesn’t allow for that maintenance to be done. However, she just wants to get the conversation started to come to an amicable solution.
“I am a firm believer that the more opinions and ideas that you have, the greatest opportunity you will have for the best outcome,” she said.
Councilman Adam Loos is hoping to see plenty of public comment Tuesday.
“I hope members of the public come out to share their ideas and comments on this, because it’s a rare opportunity to speak with elected representatives from two separate units of government at the same time regarding a major quality of life issue,” he said.
Loos said if the city takes over the parks, there could be an opportunity for the park district to reduce its property tax levy.
“The City of Carbondale has revenue from the package liquor tax that can be dedicated to park maintenance and improvement, but the Park District has to rely on property taxes,” he said. "If we can help reduce the property tax burden in Carbondale by relieving the park district of responsibility for maintaining these five parks, we ought to do it."