Archive for Thursday, July 20, 2006

Parks master plan presents contrast of needs, committment

July 20, 2006

Last week, the De Soto Parks and Recreation Commission endorsed a master plan that called for $10.5 million in improvements and investments in De Soto parks. That staggering figure doesn't account for the recommended addition of parkways or the acquisition of future parkland.

Before residents swoon over that sum, they should note several items driving that number are meant to meet the needs of future growth and neighbors yet to be proposed. In that, the master plan fulfilled its purpose of providing a road map of future park needs.

Still, the current needs are pressing, starting with the building of a second park at the northern intersection of Commerce Drive and Lexington Avenue, which park board members designated their No. 1 priority, at the estimated cost of $1.2 million.

The master plan arrives at that sum despite wisely calling for the city to cooperate with the school district and county in park development to maximize dollars and that the park department offer programs that can pay their own way.

Having identified a long list of needs, the master plan makes the good point that real planning to address them can't be accomplished unless there is an approved park's capital improvement plan funded by a dedicated revenue source.

But the plan doesn't go further to take on the hard task of proposing just how the city would fund that revenue source. Clearly there is no easy answer to that question in a city and community already tapping various revenue sources at high levels. Property taxes in De Soto are among the highest in the state because of the school district's never-ending need to build new schools. The city's sales tax rate is the highest in Kansas.

That leaves an increase in development fees to support park improvements. And while that may well be the most fair and logical place to look, it is worth noting the city raised its different development fees on new construction in recent years to the level of its Johnson County peers. The city is counting on fees from growth to pay down debt for the new sewer plant, and it's a reasonable assumption a funding mechanism of the same kind will be proposed for whatever solution the De Soto City Council selects for its water utility. The caution is that a city mortgaged to growth has to look long at adding more costs to the development it needs.

On the other hand, there is nothing on the list that appears outlandish. All the proposed improvements and new facilities can be found in neighboring communities

The park master plan's most useful purpose may be the presentation of the stark difference between needs and commitment to realize them -- both near and long term. It is now up to the community to decide how it responds to that gap and look for creative solutions.

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