Parks Committee discusses priorities as task force disbands
Additional financial support sought for city parks
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Rhinelander’s Parks, Buildings and Grounds Committee held a special meeting Tuesday at City Hall to go over a report put together by the city’s Parks Public Engagement Task Force.
The task force, which included representatives of various groups using the city parks, officially disbanded at the end of the meeting after months of work earlier this year that led up to presenting its findings and recommendations.
Prior to the Parks Committee approving a motion to include the information the task force compiled with the city’s 2015 Outdoor Recreation Plan, much of the committee’s discussion focused on future funding of the city’s parks.
Parks Committee chairperson Sherrie Belliveau said money is the biggest problem the city’s parks face.
“The only way we can increase funding for parks is to raise taxes, and that’s not a viable solution as far as the city taxpayers is concerned,” Belliveau said. “So we have to look at ways to fund the parks.”
Belliveau agreed with a suggestion made by task force member Dave Heck of Forward Rhinelander about partnering with nearby townships to support the city parks. Heck said it would be a “political challenge” to get the towns’ support.
“You have to have a plan, you have to a culture (change), you have to have accountability, or otherwise the townships won’t support you,” Heck said.
Belliveau said forming a partnership for nearby towns to financially support the city’s parks is something she believes could happen in the next 3-4 years.
She said not allowing non-city residents to use Rhinelander’s parks “would destroy the city, and the parks, they would be empty.”
“So we have to take those people into consideration, as well as the city taxpayers,” Belliveau said. “They’re using our parks…. We can’t turn a blind eye to that.”
Task force member Brian Paulson, activities director for the School District of Rhinelander, said the city’s parks could attract people to the area.
“There’s people out there in the community – I think that if they see a plan that’s created, and they know what some of the priorities are, they might be able to help with some private money,” Paulson added.
Committee member Dawn Rog presented demographic data about the city’s parks, noting that 99.5 percent of the city’s park’s 2017 budget of $348,534 comes from city property taxes, despite the nearby township residents having significantly greater population, per capita income, household income and home values, compared to city residents, and apparently at least an equal interest in the city’s parks.
Rog said maintenance of the city park facilities is a top priority, while new park ideas need long-term maintenance funding before being developed.
Committee member Alex Young agreed funding is the biggest challenge with the city’s parks when levy limits don’t make it possible to increase taxes and increasing salaries and wages squeeze the parks budget.
Young suggested keeping the seven priorities the task force put together for the city’s parks in 2017-18 on the committee’s agenda and also having parks director Jeremy Biolo look through the various recommendations for each park.
“We can look at addressing the overall funding question,” Young said. “Some of those specific projects might have specific funding sources, too.”
The No. 1 priority listed for 2017-18, a dog park, received City Council approval Monday to locate at
Shepard Park with Drs. Foster and Smith (Petco) pledging financial support for the project.