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Scott: Danville, Boyle have different visions for parks

Danville City Manager Ron Scott said he believes the city has invested more than Boyle County in local parks and laid out his vision for an overhaul of the Parks & Rec agency, based on a recent parks master plan, in a lengthy interview with The Advocate-Messenger this week.

Scott believes both the city and the county want a workable approach at creating a successful parks & recreation system. “But we see that differently, in terms of how it can be done,” he said.

On March 4, Boyle Fiscal Court voted 5-2 to reject a proposal from Danville that the city take over management of the Danville-Boyle County Parks and Recreation agency, which is currently run by its own board of directors, who are appointed by the county and city. The court voted to continue with the current joint setup.

Scott said this week a 1990 ordinance creating Parks & Rec and establishing that Danville and Boyle County would share the costs equally hasn’t been lived up to.

In 1996, the city bought the Bunny Davis center, something “the county refused to share the cost for,” Scott said.

Since the county didn’t have the money to make the purchase, the two governments entered into a contract stating the county would pay 55 percent of the center’s operational and maintenance costs, while the city would pay 45 percent.

That same year, the Parks & Rec director was hired and the Bunny Davis center became the central office for Parks & Rec.

Danville and Boyle County both paid $450,000 to purchase the land used to create Millennium Park — “a crowning achievement by the city and county,” Scott said, noting the city paid closing costs.

Both governments spent “several hundreds of thousands” beyond the purchase price for improvements, but Scott said he is “not prepared to say at this particular point who spent more.”

After the two governments bought the land together, “we suffered fiscal burnout in the early 2000s; a recession hit and we had inadequate money to do what was needed to be done,” Scott said.

Once Millennium Park was created, the Parks & Rec board and staff “pulled back from providing services to our neighborhood parks and residents,” according to Scott. The city “did nothing extra really to maintain the quality of those parks” on its own, so the neighborhood parks declined, he said.

“Even when I came here in 2011 … we were moving out old equipment from some of the parks, taking down shelters that were going to collapse” and many neighborhood parks became abandoned, Scott said. “The county didn’t want to expend any money on these city parks.”

But the city increased its expenditures on them, he says. “So, it’s not like they didn’t do anything, but it wasn’t adequate, now looking in the rearview mirror.”

Aha moment

Scott said the city had “an ‘aha’ moment” when it received feedback from the community on how important developing a trails system is. That work has begun through the Boyle County Trails Alliance.

“We realized that hey, Parks & Rec is really important to our quality of life here,” Scott said. That led to discussions with the Parks & Rec board and the county about making future improvements.

Scott said his perception of the county’s reaction was “Well, we don’t want to junk it up, it’s pretty well developed.”

Danville City Manager Ron Scott, left, talks with Judge-Executive Howard Hunt before a joint meeting held to discuss the master parks plan. Photo by Bobbie Curd.

“We had a growing sense that we needed to revisit a system-wide study of what a Parks & Rec system would look like.”

The city was already making investments in Millennium Park that “the county refused to do,” Scott said, singling out the skate park at a cost of between $80,000 and $90,000 as one example.

“The county may have done things out there, too, without the city being directly involved. I don’t know,” he said. “But I know we did.”

Scott said the city is spending roughly $470,000 for energy efficiency improvements in Millennium Park, including labor costs to upgrade the lights and make other improvements.

Scott said he asked county officials for two years to participate in funding a parks study, but “was rebuffed and told it wasn’t necessary.”

Ultimately, the city decided to fund the study itself.

Brandstetter Carroll, a consulting firm, produced the master parks plan “that said facilities are obsolete, there is a need for more funding from the city and the county, and a better program and management of our Parks & Rec system,” Scott said.

The disconnect between the city and county isn’t any one person’s fault, he said. “The question is: Is the county really going to be willing to participate in a meaningful way with the city and address all that’s needed? It’s not just about Millennium Park, not just about the city or the county. It’s about improving the quality of life for citizens.”

Fairgrounds and subcommittee fighting

Scott said the city’s recent purchase of the fairgrounds property off of U.S. 127 obviously contributed to angry disagreements between city and county officials who met as a joint subcommittee to work through Parks & Rec issues.

To county officials, it looked like Danville was acting unilaterally in purchasing the property when there had been the possibility of buying the land jointly. But Scott said he had already been in discussions about buying the property before the proposal to buy the land together was brought up.

Scott said purchasing the land was necessary to avoid the cost of building a new access road for the new Boyle County Middle School currently under construction. It was a complicated sale, requiring communication with the state education board due to the road for the new school, he said.

“We did acquire it immediately for that purpose, but it also gave us a platform to meet recommendations to acquire space for an aquatic center in the future,” he said.

According to the parks study results, 71 percent of those surveyed said “outdoor swimming pools/aquatic centers” were the most needed facilities. That’s why the city is interested in building a new aquatic center, he said.

Scott said the master plan states that 50 percent of the population is underserved by the current parks system. He said seemingly, the city and county have different visions of what’s needed to fulfill the joint ordinance requirements in order to complete the mission to “provide a unified system, improving the quality of life.”

“Are the members of the fiscal court under the belief that Millennium Park will do that? There’s no need to build an aquatic center, expand trails, improve neighborhood parks? The city thinks there’s a long list of things to be done to accomplish that mission.”

Scott said the 10-year estimate of future park improvement costs shows that of the nearly $9 million of all capital projects needed, only $1.5 million is within Millennium.

The Danville Parks and Recreation Master Plan by Brandstetter Carroll, a consulting firm. Scott says“a point that isn’t known” is that every version of the master parks plan except the final version recommended that Danville manage Parks & Rec. The final version was changed to recommend a “single government entity” serve as manager. Photo by Bobbie Curd.

“The study points out the needs are beyond Millennium Park. That figure of $9 million doesn’t include any estimate for land for the aquatic center or building of it, or a recreational complex to house staff,” he said. “That’s important to know as we talk about having a joint board that’s going to work in full partnership to meet all of our needs. Unless the county can agree their needs are broader than Millennium Park.”

Scott scoffs at claims Danville paid to get a study saying what it wanted it to say about parks.

“Brandstetter Carroll is the No. 1 respected firm as far as doing studies of this nature,” he said.

Scott acknowledges delays in completing the study “did impede the efforts of the first go-around with hiring a director.”

Scott had pushed for the board to hold off on hiring a new director after John Drake retired in August, in order to see if the city and county could benefit from what the study had to say about the responsibilities of the position.

Scott said “a point that isn’t known” is that every version of the master parks plan except the final version recommended that Danville manage Parks & Rec. The final version was changed to recommend a “single government entity” serve as manager.

“It was modified to be politically sensitive,” Scott said.