Columns/Opinion, Editorials

In light of forest proposal, how can we now be strapped for cash for parks we already own?

“There’s not some pot of money that we’ll throw at this and make all these problems go away.”
That was the Morgantown city manager’s response to a discouraging report from the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC) this week at a City Council meeting.
BOPARC officials described a chronically underfunded park system with a shrinking staff and a growing list of responsibilities.
Much like our city’s infrastructure, our park system has not kept pace with our ever-growing community.
BOPARC oversees one community center, two swimming pools, a half-dozen parks (one comprising more than 70 acres), a half dozen pocket parks, more than
50 miles of rail trails, an ice arena, softball leagues and an in-line hockey league.
Not to mention scores of programs, ranging from a triathlon to day camps, and more than space allows us to mention here.
It’s clear BOPARC’s $3.3 million operating budget is inadequate for keeping these facilities up to snuff and adequately staffing them.
The benefits of our parks and recreation programs are obvious: They improve residents’ quality of life, increase property values, attract visitors, improve air and water and bring us together.
Recent economic times have made it more challenging to park systems at all levels, including municipal ones.
Since they are a quality of life issue, not a public safety one, their budgets invariably end up short.
We would be remiss not to note the dispute surrounding the Monongalia County Commission’s marginal contribution to BOPARC’s budget — $50,000.
That’s about 1.5 percent of BOPARC’S budget, while probably more than half of BOPARC’s patrons are from outside the city’s boundaries.
Other funding mechanisms are also under review, including a possible future levy to support BOPARC.
Yet, we were taken aback by the city manager’s remark above — wherein he claimed BOPARC’s woes took years to compound and won’t be undone quickly.
That’s interesting, in light of the immediate solution he held out to fund the aborted Haymaker Forest purchase.
Then, he raised the prospect of freeing up more than $260,000 annually, now dedicated to paying off the Public Safety Building and nearly done.
He also then suggested a levy to finance buying this forest, even though the city would have plopped down $2.25 million before that levy got on a ballot.
It is our city manager’s job to remind everyone that so much of who we are starts in parks.
So, if he can professionally recommend buying property for twice its appraised value, surely he can find a way to fund the green space we already own.