By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Residents voiced their opinions Thursday night about the city’s $50 million parks proposal that will be voted on Tuesday.
City officials conducted a town hall meeting at Convention Hall, then fielded questions from those attending.
Ward 5 City Commissioner Tammy Wilson presented the city’s Quality of Life Initiative, along with a PowerPoint presentation to go along with her remarks.
Every existing park in Enid will receive upgrades and improvements under the proposal. In addition, two new neighborhood parks and a large community park will be built if the combination bond issue and sales tax increase are approved.
There are two proposals which will generate $50 million. The half-cent sales tax increase for five years would raise $20 million, while the other $30 million would be raised through general obligation bonds, extending a current 7 mill property tax for 20 years. The property tax originally was approved by voters to fund bridge improvements.
The sales tax, if approved, would begin July 1 and would expire June 30, 2018.
The continuation of the 7 mill property tax would establish a sinking fund to make principal payments on the $30 million in bonds, which would be due after 20 years and be limited to no more than 10 percent interest per year.
The largest development in the bond plan would be a new park at 30th and Randolph. The park would include softball and soccer fields, football fields, outdoor basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park, picnic shelters, restrooms and concession facilities at a cost of $13.4 million.
A new park in the city’s central business district would feature lighting and speakers, a decorative water feature, site furnishings and landscaping at a cost of about $820,000.
The remaining $6.8 million in the bond proposal would be split between improvement projects at all of the city’s neighborhood parks.
The remainder of the unspecified bond funds and the $20 million in sales tax funds would be utilized for parks improvements beyond those specified to meet the bond requirements, possibly including the addition of a water feature at the new park at 30th and Randolph and additions to the city’s trail system.
“For the past five years we’ve looked for ways to add to the quality of life, but we didn’t have the revenues,” said City Manager Eric Benson.
The 58 people who attended the meeting had a number of questions and comments.
A number of questions dealt with the way the funding would be raised. One resident, who did not give a name, asked about the selection of the land at 30th and Randolph for the new community park.
Whitney Box, director of strategic and long-range planning, said the land encompasses 217 acres and there was a willing seller. She said there were no places within the city that had the amount of land needed or had a willing seller.
Another questioner asked if the Park Board favored the project, and Benson said members did. Ward 2 City Commissioner Mike Stuber is a member of the Park Board and he confirmed the board was behind the project.
Some of the questions asked about what each park would contain. Benson said the hard part of the process will be finding out what residents want in each park. Those decisions would come after the vote and before plans are draw up.
“If it doesn’t pass, then you will continue to get what you’ve always got,” Wilson said.
She said work at parks has been done piecemeal over the years and will remain that way if the proposal fails.
David Wood told the group he is excited about parks and recreation and the wellness they will bring. He said he is a fan of the trail system, but questions the type of signs used where the trail crosses Van Buren. Stuber said the city is looking at different types of crossings to place where the trail system crosses Van Buren and other high-traffic areas.
Wilson told the crowd that about $10 million in the proposal would go to the trail system, which also receives funding in the annual city budget.
Ken Fischer suggested the city does not have an income problem, but a spending problem. He said Enid Renaissance Project cost figures were not correct and asked how the numbers city officials use for the parks project can be believed. He asked how the parks will be maintained, saying they are not currently being maintained.
After a further conversation, Fischer accused Wilson of “spinning” his comments and walked out.
John Stam said when he moved to Enid 25 years ago, he was appalled by the lack of quality-of-life improvements. He asked what assurances there are that parks will be maintained if they are built.
Former city commissioner Daron Rudy said the city has more money than ever and it is up to the city commission to decide to maintain parks, but he said so far that has not been done. He urged residents, if they like the plan, to stay on city commissioners and make sure parks remains a priority issue.
In an email to the News & Eagle after the town hall meeting, Dr. David Vanhooser, Ward 6 commissioner-elect, said he continues to oppose the plan.
“I remain opposed to the parks bond and sales tax issue as proposed. It is a setup for failure and continued disappointment,” he said in the email. “It is now only five days until the public vote, and tonight was the first time the actual details for expending the $50 million has been outlined.
“And as expected, it only partially funds the new community park, it only partially funds the anticipated maintenance department, it only funds another 10 miles of the 30-mile trails project. With this plan, more money will have to be diverted from other projects to complete what will be started and to maintain the partially funded nightmare,” he said.
Vanhooser attended the meeting but did not speak at it.