5-0 vote for Splash Pad, 3-2 against Skate Park
The Apopka City Council met Tuesday for their fourth Budget Workshop session where they and various city staff go over proposed items in the fiscal 2016-2017 budget with a fine tooth comb. The votes they take are non-binding, and the participants are often more candid than at a City Council meeting. Although they are open to the public, these sessions are sparsely attended. They are sometimes tedious 4-hour marathons of details, but however tedious, they are important. These workshops shape the direction the budget will go before final votes in about a month.
“I’ll just tell you quite honestly my biggest issue right now is with the skate park,” said Commissioner Doug Bankson. “Not because it’s not something we want down the road, but because we are going to have to find money somewhere else to take care of other necessities. I feel like we are being too aggressive with all of these other things going on.”
As he continued, Bankson explained that in his research on skate parks, there are several reasons residents may not utilize it as much as others might think.
“I talked to kids who are skaters, and they say they won’t come if they have to pay. Another city that put up a skate park and said it wasn’t nearly as utilized as they thought. A lot of the kids I talked to said two things – it wouldn’t stop them from using their neighbor’s steps if they have to pay or go a long way to use it, they won’t utilize the park. But I’m not against the idea overall. I’m simply saying with all these pressing things that we have right now; I’m dragging my heels on this one. I think the splash pad is an immediate idea that will benefit a lot of people. The skate park is more of a niche; a much smaller group of kids will use it.”
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer pushed back on Bankson’s assertions by referencing the residents that might use a skate park.
“I have to speak up for the skate park kids,” he said. “They came to not one or two, but several meetings during our visioning process and spoke eloquently and passionately about a skate park and having a place to go… and the parents who showed up said these are good kids that need a place… that need an outlet for their activities, and right now they are skating on sidewalks and streets. Having a place to go would focus and concentrate that activity and give adults a chance to keep an eye on them… and the thing is it’s on the West Orange Trail, accessible by a huge majority of the people in Apopka who have access to the trail.”
Kilsheimer continued with a common theme…looking forward into Apopka’s future.
“I continue to harp on this idea that we should invest in the future success of the city of Apopka… and I agree that public safety is our number one priority, but if we do only those things that are necessary to the exclusion of things that adds to the quality of life in Apopka, we will be an infrastructure-laden city that has no quality of life… and we can’t ignore quality of life to the exclusion of everything else.”
Bankson, who seems to be taking on the role of budget-hawk on the City Council, focused on the current trajectory of city spending.
“I would agree with that (Kilsheimer’s previous remark), but borrowing 4-million-dollars and having to raise taxes I think kind of does a reset for our thinking. If we are going to do anything I think a splash pad is for everyone and a skate park a little further down the road where we’re more fiscally established…and two years down the road we’re going to have to build another fire station.”
Kilsheimer remained steadfast on a balanced approach between amenities and infrastructure.
“We have to start with intention. Nothing gets done unless you intend to do it, so we need to intend to focus on quality of life issues, and at the same time not exclude one at the exclusion of the other… because you just get out of balance. So quality of life is just as important as all other infrastructure investments that we need to make.”
“In our visioning strategy the community was in favor of these things,” he said. “But their top-ranked way of paying for it was through public/private (investor) partnerships. So I’m not as concerned going down the path of including it in our budget, but I am going to lean heavily on (city) staff to make sure that comes to fruition in finding (private investment) partnerships as far as funding some of these projects.”
There was a brief discussion about possible private investors and grants available for a skate park, but ultimately a consensus-vote was called for.
Kilsheimer and Becker voted for both a splash pad, and skate park… but Bankson, Commissioners Billie Dean and Diane Velazquez voted for only the splash pad. The vote is not binding however, it only represents the consensus the city staff needs to advance the budget to its completion next month.
Velazquez echoed the non-binding nature of the vote.
“We are still in budget talks,” she said. “There is still room to adjust, eliminate or even add back items during this budget workshop. Consensus is just that… an agreement through discussion to keep or remove an item during this budget process. For now, the consensus made at the recent budget meeting was to keep the splash pad. This splash pad has had some funds allocated for a few years, even before this administration. Admittedly, for every year we wait the cost to construct this skate park will rise. The residents of Apopka were definitive in making their voices heard; they want a recreational park with a splash pad. The skate park came out of the recent Visioning Apopka process conducted earlier this year. I reiterate we are still conducting budget workshops. When it is all said and done, this budget will have two public hearings. The residents will have an opportunity to view it and have their say.”
Becker expressed some regret over the loss of the skate park, but is ready to move forward.
“I am glad the Council decided to proceed with the Splash pad funding, assuming final budget approval, and will continue to press staff to work with the business community to partner on these initiatives to help further defray the cost, which there have been some that have expressed interest. I would have liked to have taken the same approach for the Skate Park, as a large group of our youth, even adults, have stressed a strong interest in it, however I respect the opinions of the Council majority.”
Two more budget meetings are slated for August 23rd and 24th starting at 3pm at The City Council Chambers.