The Harrison Parks and Recreation Commission sent a proposal to city council Thursday night recommending that the city's Parks and Recreation Department become a department directly under city control and that the commission be dissolved should voters approve two sales taxes next month to build and maintain a recreational complex.
The parks commission has operated the park system autonomously from city government for over 29 years. The city allots about $530,000 to the commission, but the commission runs the day-to-day operation. Another $500,000 is generated for programs through fees, advertising and private donations or contributions.
A special election is set for Nov. 12. Two referendums are on the ballot asking voters to pass or reject a 0.75% temporary sales tax to finance bonds to build a $39.9 million rec plex, plus a 0.25% permanent sales tax that would maintain it, as well as other existing parks facilities.
The recommendation, as presented to the council, says should both taxes pass, the operation of the park system, including funding, would fall directly under the city. The parks director, then, would report to the city council and mayor. The commission would become an advisory committee, only.
But council member Bill Boswell pointed out an ambiguity between the commission's proposal and an ordinance that would actually dissolve the commission.
"If we go ahead and pass this and the tax does not pass do we revert automatically back to a parks and recreation commission and move on? That's not what the ordinance says. So, if we get into a big rush and pass this ordinance ... we have two parts of a story, here," Boswell said.
"If it (the referendums) does not pass, we pass the ordinance as it was presented, what happens? Because that is not what they (the commission) asked for.
"If we pass the ordinance and the commission goes away, is it that way for good? I'm OK with that," Boswell said, adding he wants an answer.
What does the commission want to do? Because what was said was, if the tax measures don't pass the commission stays in place. "I'm not interested in that. That's me," said Boswell.
Parks director Chuck Eddington read the proposal to the city council. It explained the committee would still be able to be involved in day-to-day operations, although it would technically require council approval. It would still consist of the seven volunteer members, with the addition of three city council members appointed by the mayor. That would give those aldermen insight when it came time for council approval.
One reason the commission approved the proposal at a meeting Thursday prior to the council meeting is that if the taxes pass, the commission would be responsible for overseeing the additional revenue. The city would be in a better position to manage the larger budget.
The ordinance to dissolve the commission will require three consecutive readings to pass. Mayor Jerry Jackson said there is no need to expedite the ordinance by suspending rules and reading the ordinance three times at one meeting. He said the ordinance can be read separately in time for it to go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Council members Heath Kirkpatrick, Joel Williams and Linda DeWald were absent Thursday.
It was decided that the council would convene at a special meeting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30, at City Hall. The ordinance will be the only item on the agenda.