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Park District Council Meeting

The Carbondale Park District Board and City Council take comments from the public Aug. 12 on the possibility of the city absorbing some of the functionality of the district.

CARBONDALE — When discussing the city absorbing some functions of the Park District, Carbondale City Council members at last Tuesday's meeting seemed to be frustrated with the process, but said they still wanted the conversation to be friendly. This comes after a slow start following a joint City Council-Park District meeting in August.

In April, taxpayers voted in favor of the council exploring taking over some of the Park District’s operation, and as part of that voter mandate, the two bodies had a meeting Aug. 12 to hear public comments and discuss what issues there might be with the idea.

During the Sept. 10 council meeting, Councilman Jeff Doherty was blunt about his feelings following the joint meeting the two bodies had last month. Doherty said he felt that unless the city takes the lead, the effort would stall.

Doherty said the city needed to ask for a comprehensive list of the district’s finances, including audits, debts and tax levees, as well as a list of all projects, future renovations and expenditures.

“It’s not unreasonable,” councilman Adam Loos said of the ask.

Loos added that the city also needed to look at the long-term planning the district has had historically, as well as look at a boundary map of the district’s taxing body. However, he cautioned against the city being too confrontational in its dealings with the Park District.

Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said that he sent a document request to the district this past Friday for the items requested by the council. Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro said Tuesday that she had received the document request and presented it to her board Monday during its meeting. Renfro said the board planned to review the information during its October meeting, and then planned to hand over the documents to the city.

Renfro said it is important to keep in mind that the two public bodies operate on different schedules. The City Council meets twice a month, while the Park District Board meets just once a month. This, in turn, can make them move slower.

Last month’s joint meeting was treated by Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry and Park District Board President Carl Flowers as a public forum, and saw a wide-ranging discussion on the proposal. However, it ended with few concrete action items. Both parties agreed to have their respective attorneys draft new, short-term leases for property owned by the city and managed by the Park District, which would serve while the two bodies explored their merger options.

As previously reported by The Southern, Turley Park, Tatum Heights Park, the Pyles 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 those leases, the Park District is responsible for maintaining the parks.

Carbondale Attorney Jamie Snyder told the council during the Sept. 10 meeting that he and the attorney for the district had a plan to meet that week to come up with an inventory of parks that would need brief, one-year lease extensions, and outline their maintenance needs.

The discussion about the city taking over some aspects of the district’s operation gained momentum last year after the park went to the city with questions about leases between the city and the park and the cost of upkeep.

However, as funding for the district, which comes from a portion of property taxes in the city, has shrunk, the district has had to make hard choices about deferred maintenance at some of its properties. Many on the City Council have noted the run-down condition of some of the properties, and see the city taking over some of the district’s operation as a way to remedy this — the city has a much larger source of funding to draw from.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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