The June KP News article titled “Key Pen Metro Parks District commissioners approve compensation” was particularly disturbing for several reasons:
- The action was taken unilaterally by the Board of Commissioners without any public hearings.
- The action is in direct conflict with the commitments made by the Formation Committee wherein the Key Peninsula community was assured that they would have an opportunity to vote on any action concerning compensation to commissioners or the levying of taxes.
- The action proposed for compensation is an affront to all volunteers who have struggled for years in a volunteer capacity (hence the name Volunteer Park) to provide the Key Peninsula with public recreational facilities.
In September 2003, the Board of Commissioners of the Key Peninsula Park and Recreation District were struggling to keep the park in operation on a budget of less than $25,000/year. It was at that time that they asked the community to pass a levy that would provide about $50,000 a year to cover maintenance and operation expenses. The request was defeated at the polls and the park district was in danger of going bankrupt.
The state Legislature provided an opportunity for the Key Peninsula to create a Metropolitan Park District and in so doing to be eligible to receive a minimum of $100,000 a year from the Zoo Trek Tax Fund. The recent defeat of the tax levy was still fresh in our minds and we were determined to do everything we could to insure passage of the Metropolitan Park District Plan.
At a public hearing the citizenry argued that if this plan were passed, the newly elected commissioners would immediately create a compensation package for themselves and most likely pass a resolution to levy a tax on the community. In response to that concern, the Formation Committee pledged that if the Metro Park Referendum was passed, there would be no compensation package and no taxes unless specifically approved by a vote of the people. With that commitment the Metro Park proposal was approved by a 60 percent margin and the Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park district was created.
The new Board of Commissioners has had to deal with some troublesome issues, but they all pale in comparison to the issues that faced our parks founders. I’m sure the original commissioners would have loved to have had the problems the present board has, i.e. trying to figure out how to operate our parks on a budget of over $125,000/year, exclusive of any tax levy. It appears that the weightiest issue that the present board has had was the hiring of a park administrator and setting his salary.
There has been a lot of discussion about the proposed 360-acre park that the commissioners are working on but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that that project was started, and substantially completed to the stage it is now at, by the previous park board. It is also somewhat disconcerting that while the commissioners are spending a great deal of time on the 360 Park, which under the best of estimates, according to Director Scott Gallacher, is five to 10 years away from any type of development, there are approximately 50 level acres of county property adjacent to Volunteer Park, and tentatively offered to the district by the county, lying dormant. The development of this property would almost triple the size of Volunteer Park and create badly needed new park space at a fraction of the cost of other proposals, and doable in the life span of present citizens.
In the two years since the creation of the KPMPD, there has been no significant change in the operation of our park district. Volunteer Park, Home Park and Rocky Creek as well as the 360 Park were all in place under the previous park district. The present commissioners have not made any case, or even tried to justify compensation, and probably more importantly have not made any effort to talk to the community about any long-range plans that will undoubtedly involve a tax levy. Where is our park district going? How much will it cost? How will it be paid for? Will we finally be able to accommodate soccer and equestrian events? And, when will it happen? To quote Harrison Ford, “All good questions.” Based on the behavior of the commissioners, it appears that commissioner compensation is their No. 1 issue.
Ben Thompson is a former KPPRD park commissioner and the chairman of the Formation Committee for the creation of the Key Peninsula Metropolitan Park District.
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the KP News. We neither endorse nor oppose issues or proposals it discusses and present this views for public information only.