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City management of Parks & Rec is best path forward

By RON SCOTT

Guest columnist

The year-long, independent professional study concerning our current parks and recreation program should result in all who live in Danville/Boyle County asking three important questions that directly impact their present and future quality of life:

1) Are we satisfied with the status quo?

2) Can we do better in the future?

3) If so, how?

The study’s findings are inconsistent with any valid conclusion that we are currently meeting the parks and recreational needs of all city and county residents, much less addressing their future needs. The study found that 50 percent of our community was underserved by our current parks and recreation system, that our facilities did not meet current or future needs of our population, that programming needed improvements, and funding needed to be significantly increased. The report made other significant findings, such as that certain facilities were non-existent or no longer serviceable (aquatics).

Critically important, the plan presented extensive recommendations for action for the next 10 years, which included the primary recommendation to “establish a single governmental agency to manage all parks, facilities and programs within the system” (i.e., not just Millennium Park) and to implement new funding levels (increase capital and operating budgets) and revenue-generating strategies to provide quality parks, facilities and programs.

The study’s findings illustrate that our present structure does not work, if it ever fully did. In 1990, the city and county adopted a joint ordinance to establish, maintain and operate a joint parks, playground and recreational system, to be financed in equal shares by the Boyle County Fiscal Court and the Danville City Commission. The joint board later defined its mission to be to provide a unified parks and recreation system that improves the quality of life for all residents of Danville and Boyle County through quality parks, facilities, and programs — a great goal (equal financing) with a joint board approach similar to that of other smaller cities and counties who initially partner to provide services.

The reality is that as cities and counties grow, one of the governments (usually the city) assumes the lead in providing the services. As cities and counties grow even larger, both the city and the county each independently provide some parks and recreation services.  As recommended by the study, Danville (17,500 population) and Boyle County (29,500 population) have grown to the point where services can best be provided by the city (or the county) to provide effective, efficient and necessary parks and recreation services for all.

Even before Millennium Park was established, the city and county did not conform to the equal financing requirements established by the 1990 joint ordinance. In 1996, just six years after the joint ordinance of financing in equal shares was adopted, the city spent $552,174 to acquire/improve the Bunny Davis Recreational Center, in order to provide needed swimming and recreational facilities. The county declined to share in these costs.

In 2018, Danville spent $457,971 in equipment and labor costs to make energy efficiency improvements (such as outdoor lights for playing fields) in Millennium Park. In 2018, Danville also expended $790,000 to acquire “the Fairgrounds” to meet future needs (potential aquatics center) and to permit Boyle County High School to utilize a $500,000 grant to build a school access road. While these and perhaps other capital expenses were not equally shared, the city and county have generally shared annual operational expenses for just Millennium Park.

Prior to the opening of Millennium Park, the joint funding provided by the city and county were used by the Board to operate a program to address all overall parks and recreation needs, which included the city’s other neighborhood parks.  After Millennium Park was opened, the Board restricted its oversight to Millennium Park, leaving the city with the cost of funding/providing services to neighborhood parks (which were in retrospect, inadequate).

It was long ago determined that Millennium Park (121 acres, jointly owned by the city and county) was considered “built-out” given its current service density. The city additionally owns no less than 122 recreational acres throughout the city and is responsible for maintaining and programming all space.

As the city owns 122 recreational acres, plus half of the 121 acres in Millennium Park, it is most appropriate that the city have a structure for delivery of parks and recreational services system-wide, if underserved areas of the community are going to be served, and particularly if the county is only willing to fund services limited to those in Millennium Park.

The Master Parks and Recreation Plan identified approximately $9 million in total system-wide park improvement costs projected as necessary for the next 10 years, of which “only” $1,549,000 was associated with Millennium Park. The $9 million approximate total did not include any estimate for the cost of acquisition of land or construction costs for a future outdoor aquatics center. The $9 million also did not include any cost estimate to provide the recommended recreational center to house the parks and recreation department offices.

In order to achieve the needed service levels for all residents of Danville and Boyle County, broader capital needs system-wide must be met, and increased accessibility to the many acres of recreational acres owned by the city must be utilized.

Danville’s city commission, in conducting this study, is looking to the future as to how best to meet quality of life needs of all who live in Boyle County. As the study recommends, the next step is to have the city directly provide parks and recreation services utilizing all of our parks (not just Millennium) to serve the needs of all residents.

The continued financial support from Boyle County (perhaps financing in equal shares) will be essential, as will having the current parks and recreation board focus on programing and making recommendations for ongoing improvement.

As with other larger cities in Kentucky who took this step, it will result in creating a unified parks and recreation system that improves the quality of life for all residents of Danville and Boyle County through quality parks, facilities and programs.

Ron Scott is the city manager for Danville.