If the residents of Newark want to replace the playground equipment at Delora Doughty Royal Park, they will have to use their own money.
At a recent budget meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Laura Pixler asked the council to consider using $13,000 in city funds to purchase and install playground equipment at the park. She cited a $50,000 surplus in the city’s proposed budget for 2012-13.
Pixler backed off that amount at the last budget session Aug. 30, saying she would accept matching city funds after fundraisers were held next month – or even accepting as little as $2,500 to help start buying equipment one piece at a time.
“I looked at the budget and realized where we were,” Pixler said. “We are in a lot better place than we were a year ago.”
But she still met a wall. Council members Bob Wells, Chana Massey and Doug Anderson were all opposed to designating any money in the upcoming budget for equipment at the park.
“I’ve never asked for money for the parks before,” Pixler said. “Not in any budget workshop. I never asked for one hairy dime from this council. I can’t believe the opposition for $2,500 tonight. I’m appalled. I still like y’all, but I’m shocked.”
Wells said he objects to spending money on something so few will use.
“When you look at playground equipment, I know it tugs at your heart, but playground equipment is entertainment,” he said. “It’s entertainment for a relatively small demographic of our population, 4- to 10- (year olds). Taking taxpayer money from hard-working people to entertain a relatively small demographic of people – I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think that’s a bad precedent.”
Massey said a long-range plan should be in place before money is allocated for park equipment.
“I believe parks in Newark should have playground equipment, but I think purchasing equipment in 2013 would be premature,” he said. “We haven’t properly identified what demographics the park would serve. I too want the city to have something to offer residents of all ages, but in order to do that we have to develop and follow a plan.”
Doug Anderson expanded on that idea. “It feels like a spoiled little child not to wait,” he said.
Only council member Linda Anderson shared Pixler’s desire for park equipment, pointing out how it could strengthen the community.
“I have supported this park since I first moved to this town two years ago,” she said. “We have a driving interest in bringing a quality of life to our families. Why do all towns I know of have parks? It’s good for the mind, body and soul. It’s good for our children. It’s good for children and families to get to know each other.
“Parks are about family. They build strength in our community. We don’t have parks or recreation in Newark, and we need it.”
Several residents in attendance echoed her feelings.
“Children are our future,” said resident Ken Hatmaker. “We were children once. Imagine if we didn’t have a place to go. And I think it’s very, very important. My family is the most important asset in my life. We can build a future for them with a safe park. Those kids who are 4, 5, 6 and 7, playing in the park and bonding with their families now aren’t going to be the ones who are teenagers later with a beer in one hand a cigarette in the other …”
“I see kids in Country Living playing in the streets and playing in mud puddles,” said resident Ray Chaffin. “I think kids need a place to play. It’s been two years since that was taken down. A lot of people can’t afford to contribute to the park fund. Come down to the food bank with me on Tuesday and see how many people are in need. They live payday to payday. They don’t have money to donate to a park. I think tax money should go to a park.”
“I believe our taxes should be going toward the parks,” said resident Pamela Thompson. “I think children do need a safe place to play. We have a lot of hoodlums who runs the streets. Maybe if kids had a good place to play, we wouldn’t have that.”
But in the end, the majority of the council agreed with Wells.
“It’s not our duty to take taxpayer money and put it into playground equipment for children,” Wells said. “We have roads to fix.”
The land for Delora Doughty Royal Park was donated to the city about 10 years ago by Royal’s family for the sole purpose of being used as a city park. The original equipment became dilapidated and had to be removed three years ago due to safety issues.