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      1-17-07  
   
County tells city it needs action at park ‘soon’
by Stacy Wiedmaier
Landmark reporter

A proposal involving cost sharing highlighted last Thursday’s meeting between county and city officials in regard to the county's claim that Platte City has not lived up to its end of a maintenance agreement on county-owned park land.

The meeting came just days after Platte City’s parks and recreation board had submitted a written proposal to the county in an attempt to answer the county's concerns about the condition of Platte Ridge Park located along Hwy. 371 north of Tracy.

Two aldermen represented the city at this meeting, Ken Brown and Aaron Jung. Brown said one of his goals was gathering information to take back to the remaining aldermen at their meeting next Tuesday.

“We need to find a resolution and common ground to avoid unnecessary dissolution between us and the county,” Brown said. “Aaron (Jung) and I are here to represent the city and we want to get the county’s perspective since we’re on the outside looking in on this issue.”

Platte County commissioners, who were all present at the meeting, had sent a letter outlining specific deficiencies of park maintenance to Dannie Stamper, director of the Platte City parks and recreation. The letter, dated Dec. 21, named areas the county says the city has neglected. These include the baseball and soccer complexes, trail surfaces, fencing, safety and security issues, and a connecting road in the park.

The county previously acquired the park property and has over $2 million invested in the project. The county entered into a partnership with the Platte City Board of Aldermen and the Platte City park board to operate and maintain the facility in 2004.

The city has responded to the county’s letter, dated Jan. 10, that costs to repair the property could be near $100,000. The city is requesting the county share in this cost, split $60,000 on the city’s part and the remaining $40,000 by the county.

The probability of this cost sharing proposal was questioned at the meeting when Brown proposed the two parties can meet halfway to make a decision.

“Although we can make no official decisions today without the board being present, we need to move forward,” said Brown. “The county could consider setting aside money for this project in their 2007 budget.”

Brian Nowotny, director of parks for Platte County, responded that this request would never happen and was not an option at this time.

“I don’t see that happening. The city is responsible for road paving and maintenance, not the county,” said Nowotny. “We have big dreams for this project, but not enough money for it all.”

Nowotny said the “worst case scenario would be about $60-65,000 the city is responsible for.”

While costs were being discussed, Brown decided to add his opinion the project costs outlined in the city’s response letter to the county were inaccurate.

“It’s been apparent to me from the outset this plan has been offered to the city twice, and these figures are not reliable. They are false estimates of what this repair will cost,” said Brown.

This problem of controlling the park’s maintenance operations has been on the table for 18 months, and everyone present at the meeting voiced their opinion how important it is to agree on a resolution. Jung said he is “sick of this dragging on,” and Presiding Commissioner Betty Knight said the county has given the city multiple opportunities to correct the problem, and their chances are running out.

“It’s critical for the city to repair the park,” said Knight. “We’ve been patient. We have given you chances to fix the problem. The county has no cost sharing placed in our yearly budget. Our original offer to share costs was $20,000, which still stands. I’m not sure if there is more money available through grants? There are always the outreach grants (offered by the county) that total $200,000 a year (for which the city is eligible to apply).

Knight questioned whether the city is determined to “make something happen” to protect the taxpayers' investment made in the park property. The county’s original letter gives the city a 90 day period to “cure the material defaults or to take reasonable steps to cure the defaults,” at the park. Knight said this 90 day window gives the city time to correct their issues and “we need to get busy before the spring to fix this.”

Jung made clear the aldermen do not have any money set aside in their yearly budget to pay for maintenance.

“My main concern is moving forward,” said Knight. “We’ve been dealing with this for more than a year and it came to a head last spring when we met at the park site to see the problems during a walk-through. Then we got nowhere when all the blaming started.”

Nowotny said there is a fundamental disagreement at what state the park was in when it was handed over.

"It wasn’t perfect but was still in good shape where it could be used,” Nowotney said. “The city spent so much time on their capital improvements that it’s caused them to overlook mowing the grass. That’s what got us here in the first place. It’s as simple as the city keeping up their maintenance. The county has no grounds to terminate the agreement if the city does that. It takes care of itself.”

Chairman of the Platte City Park Board, and a coach to teams who play at the park, Bill Burnett, said the park’s board is “just asking for a chance.”

“We’re not in this to make money, but instead to provide a service to citizens,” said Burnett. “We have to either tell the kids ‘yes’ or ‘no’ whether they will be able to play on these fields this spring. Soccer begins already in March. I have seen through this process that nothing can be done without communication.”

County officials have indicated they encourage the city to go ahead and sign up all youths wanting to play soccer and baseball, saying the programs will go on no matter who is in charge of maintenance at the park.

Burnett offered his assistance to organize a volunteer work force to help repair the park, which was not a widely accepted alternative by the county. Nowotny called the volunteer force “a major concern for us,” and Knight said “it’s difficult to rely on volunteers.”

Burnett also addressed the fact that a trailer sits on the park’s property. He made clear the park board does not own it and instead wants to remove it. He said it belongs to PCAA (Platte County Athletic Association) and said he heard no response when he contacted the association to remove the vehicle.

Nowotny said another concern for the county is multiple complaints received about the walking trail’s condition. He said the trail’s use has diminished since it is compiled of uneven gravel and needs to be paved with concrete to provide an even surface.

Burnett took a defensive stance on the sidewalks topic and attempted to explain the board’s actions and why they have not poured any concrete yet.

“I have not seen a building permit for the sidewalks yet,” said Burnett. “They were originally supposed to be eight foot wide, but now I hear they’re down to four feet. Why should we spend money on these sidewalks if we’ll be evicted as soon as they’re finished? You don’t build a deck on a rental house.”

Nowotny repeated his earlier statement that the city will not be evicted if the city keeps up its end of the maintenance agreement.

Plans are for Jung and Brown to take recommendations to the aldermen at their meeting next week to begin the process of establishing accurate repair costs and determine who is responsible for the work.

Knight reiterated the fact that “we need to see costs and actions taken soon.”