Danville repeals joint parks ordinance

Published 7:43 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Danville City Commission voted Monday night to end a parks partnership with Boyle County Fiscal Court.

Commissioners voted unanimously to repeal the city’s ordinance that created the funding arrangement for the joint Danville-Boyle County Parks & Recreation agency. And they held a first reading of a replacement ordinance. The new ordinance would establish a city department for parks and recreation, which would answer to the city manager.

Danville City Commission and Boyle County Fiscal Court have not been able to come to an agreement about updating the joint ordinance, which details how each entity shares funding for the parks system. Danville officials have pushed for the two governments to share costs for all parks, including trails; Boyle officials have said they only want to share costs for their flagship attraction, Millennium Park.

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The move was presented to the commission as a staff recommendation. City Attorney Stephen Dexter said, “Staff cannot recommend approval of a solution to Parks & Recreation that is not long-term, viable and structured for success. The city has a broader vision … that includes not only Millennium Park, but also all of its other parks and trails …”

He said it’s the city’s hope that the fiscal court “would continue to support parks and recreation in our community by entering into a service agreement that provides a financial contribution at least at its current level.”

This is the same way the city and county handle 911 services, solid waste management and EMS, Dexter said. “Additionally, the city is still willing to trade the county some of its newly acquired land at the fairgrounds for use as a county public works facility, if that should be desired.”

Commissioner Rick Serres asked if the ordinance could be discussed first before holding a vote. Dexter said staff is asking for action, and “I think if we’re going to consider the text of the ordinance, than we should have a motion to approve it …” but that it could be tabled after the discussion.

Commissioner J.H. Atkins made the motion to repeal the old ordinance and accept the new one, and Serres seconded it, adding, “This is a real important time in our history … there’s a few things that would be better if we clarified. All of this is being done because we want to have the best parks and rec for the community … we want fiscal court to be a part of it and don’t want it to look like a disenfranchisement.”

The new ordinance creates the City of Danville Parks and Recreation Committee, which will consist of seven members, in staggered terms, appointed by the mayor, then approved by the city commission. Members may not be reappointed for more than two consecutive terms; residence in the city is not required.

The director and all staff “will be covered under the personnel policies and procedures as adopted by the city.” Serres asked if the director would be able to hire “his or her own staff without scrutiny by the city manager or city commission?”

Dexter said no, all hires would be made through the city manager’s office. “Well, consistent with our personnel policies we set for how that operates,” Scott added. 

“So this will operate more like a department head?” Commissioner Denise Terry asked. Scott said yes.

Dexter said recommendations from Scott will be made to the commission, as is done with all other positions. Serres said that usually comes from the city manager to the commission via recommendation from a department head.

Serres also asked about the job description for the Parks & Rec director. “I would guess we don’t have one ready yet.”

Dexter said that’s correct.

“This is a very linear process, there are several steps that need to be taken. None of which are worth the time and effort should you not pass these two ordinances …” Dexter said.

Scott said when the existing Parks & Rec board previously asked the city to take the lead in advertising the director position, the city developed the job description, “so that essentially can be similar or identical to that.”

Serres asked how conflicts between the new parks committee and the city manager would be handled. Dexter said the city manager already gets recommendations “all the time” from different city committees.

“The recommendation is to do that; the problem is budgeting. So therein lies the recommendations are made to the director, and the director is in the city manager’s ear for the recommendations that were made, and you budget towards what is needed … you prioritize,” Dexter said. “But the board itself transitions from an actual policy board to an advisory board, and they make recommendations to the parks and rec director,” who proposes ideas to the city manager to be incorporated into the budget, “just as any department head does.”

“What we don’t know … is the fiscal court’s reaction,” Serres said. “We want them to support things if we did move forward as a city department. And so the question to my commissioners would be do we vote tonight or do we wait to see what the reaction is?”

Serres said he sees a lot of positives if the city goes in this direction, “but I think (fiscal court’s) initial reaction would not be that. They’d have to let it sink in a little bit …”

Currently, fiscal court contributes about $300,000 to the joint parks agency, Serres pointed out. “That would be a big loss for us, even though we as a city offer Parks & Rec three times that, but it doesn’t look that way because we’re already handling our own parks …”

Dexter said the city commission would be voting on a first reading.

“There’s still a layover period, should comments be collected,” Dexter said. “The fiscal court will have an opportunity to respond, should they choose to, prior to your second reading.”

Dexter said hopefully the county will agree to enter into a service agreement, and “hopefully the funding levels will continue.”

“I guess that’s the question I have,” said Commissioner Kevin Caudill. “The money we’re spending now versus the money we might be spending in the future. I don’t know if we know that or can know that.”

“You don’t know that from year-to-year in any department,” Dexter said. “You budget what you have … you know what your costs are now, you have plans to develop and create some plans for the new fairgrounds property, so there’s going to be future expenditures and funds, so all of this will have to be developed strategically … The question is what is the most effective way to achieve the plan? If you think this is it, you go for it, and you budget accordingly and hope you have the revenue sources to provide the services you want to deliver. Which is what every department does.”

Mayor Mike Perros said he sees “a number of wins” in the proposal. He said the county wins because “they’ve said all along … they have a hard time really going forward on Parks & Rec because of other pressing issues … this limits their financial obligation to an extent.”

Commissioner Atkins said if the new ordinance passes, “there’s no doubt we’re going to have a unified parks system, and the city will maintain Millennium and everything else … we’re not abandoning all those other parks.”

Dexter said he’s caught by the fact he remembers a story that “had been decades old, and it was on repeat in The Advocate-Messenger in their year in review. They addressed two issues for years, the first of which was 911. They said this community cannot be stabilized until this issue is resolved, it’s too important, it’s too critical. The second issue was a repeated article of what’s going to happen to the (Bunny Davis) pool this year. Will the city and county be able to agree on how to fund it, will it be done in time, will kids be able to swim …”

Dexter said a lot of these issues that have been in the community have been “developed by friction because of format. The format has been poor, but what we’ve seen is if we get into the right format, we’ve had success.” He noted again that 911, EMS and solid waste are now all handled the same way.

“My question to you is why not parks and recreation? Why not be in a system that we know works, and creates less friction. And also take something off The Advocate-Messenger’s Top 10 list?” Dexter said. ”This has been a decade problem.”

The commission unanimously voted to repeal the old ordinance and accept the new one.

On Tuesday, City Manager Scott said the city has had discussions with Parks & Rec Director John Bell, who was hired earlier this year, “indicating to him the director position would be open, as well as all his staff. We may have to reconfigure some job duties with some of the staff, but communication was made to him that he and other staff would continue to work with the city department, should they desire to do so.”

Scott also said that he, along with Perros, Boyle County Judge-Executive Howard Hunt and Magistrate John Caywood met Monday afternoon to discuss the city’s move before it happened that evening, “… to give them an opportunity to talk to fiscal court members.”

Scott said the city is intending to take the lead in the situation. The recent parks master plan completed by the city “said one entity should take the lead, and the county refused to do that.”

He said Millennium Park would still be jointly owned.

The effective date of the repealed ordinance will be the end of December, while the new ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, if a second reading is held.