TERRE HAUTE —
Money is tight and getting tighter, but supporters of the city’s parks say those properties remain a high priority.
The Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department hosted an open forum for stakeholders Friday inside the Torner Center at Deming Park. The department will conduct a public hearing from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Collett Park Pavilion for continued discussion about its 5-year Master Plan, which must be established as part of state grant requirements.
About 20 participants from a variety of organizations discussed priorities pertaining to local parks in light of what superintendent Eddie Bird described as a tough fiscal environment.
Pointing out that the parks budget has been slashed by $1 million since 2008, Bird said donations and sponsorships remain a priority if programming is to be maintained.
City Councilman Norm Loudermilk (D-3rd) got straight to the point later in the session as discussions remained focused on sponsorships and funding.
“Are there plans in the works to sell the golf courses?” he asked Bird.
“Not at this time,” Bird said, explaining that the covenants involved in the land donated for both Rea Park and Hulman Links precludes such a move.
Furthermore, he said the golf courses are a big draw, generating as much as $200,000 a year for local charities through scrambles and fundraisers. That has to be factored into the discussion when questioning the overall cost, he said.
Loudermilk expressed his strong support for the parks, and said statistics show crime rates increase when parks are closed, but fall when they’re opened. That benefit comes on top of the quality of life offered and accidents they prevent as in the example of offering swimming pools instead of kids using strip pits, he said.
“The parks department is not meant to make a profit. It provides a service,” Loudermilk said, emphasizing his hope that the group takes a “big idea” approach to a revenue-generating project such as a water park. “I think that would really put us on the map.”
The idea of a water park or aquatic center came up throughout the meeting, with Loudermilk noting that area residents presently drive all the way to one in Plainfield.
Bruce Rosselli, parks department director of recreation, pointed out that the water park in Plainfield came with a multi-million dollar bond for its home department. Growing such programs and developing the associated facilities will require fundraising, he said.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is brand those with sponsors,” he said, encouraging participants to become “advocates for the parks” and help talk up the facilities when fundraising.
Pat Martin, of the city’s engineering department, said the idea of developing a large-scale water attraction is doable.
“I think there’s enough people, enough momentum and enough mass to support an aquatic center,” he said.
Martin also remarked that potential cost-cutting measures might include a reduction in mowing. The use of native grasses or wildflowers could save the department’s fuel budget, he said.
Terry Tevlin of First Financial Bank was among multiple participants who said the current budget crunch, while very real, will ultimately pass. Saving the parks is a priority, he said.
“Budget cuts are the reality. We’re living in a different world in 2013,” he said, warning that the county’s recent drop in terms of reassessment values will have significant implications over the coming years. But in the long run, the city should consider the value of what is has here. “This is our crown jewel,” he said of the parks system.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or email@example.com.