The maintenance crew for the Murray-Calloway County Parks System has been cut in half as the months turn colder and their funding dries up.
Tab Brockman, parks director for the parks system, said normally they would have only laid off one or two employees but the cutbacks saved the park board thousands of dollars.
“We’ve been forced to scale back its employees to an absolute skeleton crew because of financial challenges the parks board is facing,” he said.
The sting of the failed park referendum tax voted on last November may be soothed by a constitutional amendment proposed to the Kentucky General Assembly, which would allow for communities to enforce a tax for specific projects.
The amendment, called LIFT, or Local Investments For Transformations, is a local-option sales tax that would give local communities a chance to create a new revenue for specific projects by raising the sales tax in that community up to one penny on every dollar.
Proponents say the tax increase would expire once the designated project is completed.
Judge Executive Larry Elkins said although there isn’t a tax proposal in the works to affect the parks system in Murray-Calloway County, the local option sales tax might be an option for the parks in the future.
Even if lawmakers in Frankfort, Ky., approved LIFT this spring, it would go to ballot in November 2016 for voters to ratify. If voters approve the constitutional change, it would allow for communities like Murray to raise the sales tax for a specific project, but 2018 is the earliest it could take effect.
The new revenue would be dedicated to funding specific projects that the community picks and would not go into a city’s or county’s general fund, according to the LIFT Kentucky website, which is run by proponents of the local option sales tax.
Brockman said updating the parks could be a project Murray would choose and would be up to the community.
“There is nothing imminent about additional revenue for the parks,” Elkins said. “The parks board will continue to identify and fix problems just as they always have in order to have a nice park with the revenues they already have.”
THE PARKS AFTER THE ELECTION
The Murray-Calloway County parks system includes two parks, Chestnut Park, Central Park and a soccer complex.
The oldest of the three, Chestnut Park, is 70 years old. Central Park is about 40 years old and Bee Creek Soccer Complex is about 30 years old.
“We have to deal with maintenance problems that come with aging,” Brockman said. “The normal wear and tear on parks that happen.”
The first priority of parks management is to have the condition of the community pool in Central Park assessed.
Park employees have suspected for several years that the 40-year-old pool has been leaking and a 2010 study verified the damage existed. The pool leaks about 9,000 gallons of water a day, according to the report.
“Additional meter reading evaluations last year indicate the leaking is getting progressively worse and have escalated over the last three years,” Brockman said.
The condition of the ground beneath the pool has yet to be evaluated.
The parks board has secured three estimates ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 to get the pool inspected, but a decision has not been made.
“We will have to come up with a creative way to finance that because it is not within our budget,” he said.
FINDING ANOTHER WAY
Brockman said the park referendum tax failed simply because voters preferred to exhaust other funding options before agreeing to a tax increase.
“The good thing that came out of the election is that the community is more aware of the needs of the park,” he said. “Folks know that there are things that need to be addressed.”
He said since the election, the parks board has developed tax-refundable opportunities for community members to donate to the parks through the Murray-Calloway County Community Foundation and redbasket.org.
Redbasket.org is a non-profit organization that allows individuals to donate time or money directly to local people or projects that need help, according to its website.
The profile on redbasket.org for the Murray-Calloway County parks shows that $705 of $60,000 has been raised through donations with 48 days remaining in the time frame given.
The $60,000 is required to cover the cost of the pool inspection and create an emergency maintenance fund.
Even if the goal of $60,000 is not met, the project will receive the money that has been donated to them.
“We are always in fundraising mode,” Brockman said. “And we find ourselves there all the time.”
Story by Mari-Alice Jasper, Assistant News Editor