Watertown parks to get extra funding

by HANNAH BROADBENT
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In July the city council was in the heat of budget analysis. They covered debt management, Capital Investment Funds and finally an excess fund balance.

The extra funds total at $225,000 coming from the general fund. The city had a few options to play with – transferring the funds into the capital fund (CIP), refunding recent bonds, trail construction, unfinished park projects or lastly, economic development.

After an hour and a half of conversation, several different idea proposals and referring back to budget documents, the council decided to move forward with the option to put $15,000 into the park fund and $205,000 into the capital investment fund.

The capital investment fund includes new projects and facility upgrades like additions at Evergreen Park. The parks capital fund and utilities capital funding is separate and includes already existing projects or facilities, said staff.
“My challenge to the council was how do we want to reinvest this excess fund balance back into the community,” said city administrator Shane Fineran.

Counselors and Mayor Steve Washburn agreed on a few priority projects. Main topics included: finishing the trail on the south and west segments of the 30th St. wetlands, a parking lot for Evergreen park as well as a main water system and new dugouts, finishing the projects at Forest Hill park and paying interest towards a 2010 bond used for street maintenance. An option to give some of the money to the Economic Development Authority(EDA) in Watertown was also on the table.

The EDA is responsible for housing initiatives and Washburn wanted to plant a seed into the minds on the council. He said they would need to spend some time talking about what their appetite is around some economic development, specifically around senior housing.

“Almost every neighboring community has better senior housing options than we do,” he said. “You’d be amazed at what they (Norwood Young America) has that we don’t.”

“Senior housing is something we need to address and it is going to take dollars,” said councilwoman Lindsay Guetzkow.

Washburn finished by adding that he doesn’t think this funding would be of good use for the EDA, but he urged the council to start putting senior housing at the front of their mind.

Washburn said the decision should be one that impacts the community in the best way.

“I want to continue to invest in our community to see the economic growth we’ve seen over the last couple years,” Washburn said. “ I believe you do that with your parks and recreation system – by expanding it.”

Counselors Deborah Everson and Guetzkow agreed. They said the community deserves to be able to see results, like amenities at Evergreen Park and finishing other park projects they have started.

“Evergreen Park is one of the most highly used parks and it’s been one of the most neglected,” said councilmen Adam Pawelk. “Forest Hills, let’s get that one off the books.”

Guetzkow suggested that some of the things Evergreen Park needs can be contributed by the community, like park benches.
“Maybe look at a partnership with school for something like that – great project for the shop class,” she said.

Guetzkow pointed out that Evergreen probably has the most consensus. She suggested that if the council doesn’t want to use any part of the excess fund balance for debt, it should be put into the park balance.

“The park balance the least healthiest,” Pawelk added.
Councilman Michael Walters priorities were with the debt payments. The council would have used $140,000 to pay off $54,000 in interest of the 2010A bonds.

“That makes sense to me,” he said. “Otherwise I’m still leaning towards water and structures at Evergreen.”

In the end the highest consensus was with the park projects that need to be started and finished. Projects in mind for the money were a main water system at Evergreen – and ameneities and dugouts can wait and be put forward for suggestions from the community.

Washburn said this type of conversation is important. Fineran reminded the council that this meeting is for direction, and money can be moved if needed. For now, $15,000 will go into the park balance and $205,000 into the CIP for new projects.

“I think we covered all the bases for this conversation,” Washburn said.