November 27, 2014

OUR VIEW: Parks are great, if we get to use them

If you want to go hiking, don’t go to Big Bull Creek, a county – owned park just outside of Edgerton and adjacent to Hillsdale Reservoir. Don’t plan on fishing, biking, camping or mushroom hunting on the county-owned property either.
Although taxpayers passed a $6 million bond issue in 1998 to acquire the 1,400 acres, county officials have not lived up to their promise to make improvements to the park including hiking trails, prairie and woodland management programs and a large group camping area. More than a decade after the original purchase, taxpayers are not allowed on the land.
That point may be moot sooner rather than later though, and taxpayers may never get the chance to enjoy the park for which they paid. Edgerton currently has filed eminent domain proceedings against Johnson County Parks for a portion of the park land so a waste water treatment plant can be built. Gardner is also a partner in the $11.9 million plant. The plant is needed to serve the 1,000 acre BNSF intermodal logistics plant and to service other projected future growth in the area.
What makes the situation interesting is, that despite a countywide vote, and a $6 million bond issue, the public purchased property they have never been allowed to enjoy. And now it appears the Johnson County Park board wants to cash in again, refusing to negotiate with Edgerton to purchase the property for a fair market price, forcing an eminent domain proceeding, and requiring the community pay $100 per day to lease the property until the condemnation proceedings are complete.
The question is who really wins in this government entity showdown? Certainly not the taxpayers. It appears taxpayers are being held hostage, being forced to pay twice for property that has lain dormant for more than a decade, a master plan growing dusty on a shelf somewhere. Johnson County officials reneged on their promise to make Big Bull Creek Park usable within five years, so why seek to reach into taxpayers pockets again? Park Board members are acting more like land speculators than county officials. Through the eminent domain proceedings, courts are once again being asked to decide issues better decided by government officials and staff in a common sense manner – putting taxpayers ahead of territorial and ego-driven decisions.

Comments

  1. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    I searched the Johnson County Park and Recreation District website today for information on the proposed Big Bull Creek Regional Park. Apparently, Bull Creek plans posted online have not been updated for 2-1/2 years.

    In 1999, the Park District commissioned a team of nationally acclaimed specialists to prepare an analysis of the District’s existing facilities and programs, and to chart a course for expanding and managing open space and recreational resources through the year 2020. The strategies within the resulting Master Action Plan (MAP 2020) were designed to significantly enhance Johnson County’s quality of life and economic development well into the 21st century and beyond.

    When completed in 2001, the MAP 2020 plan suggested that because the future Big Bull Creek Regional Park is located in the southwest corner of the County, away from populated areas, there was no need for development of active recreation facilities at the park until the population in the area grew as projected. However, a large group camping area could be established at minimum expense, and a prairie and woodland management program initiated. A master plan should be prepared which would illustrate future park development and demonstrate how the property could be utilized in conjunction with the Hillsdale Reservoir, located adjacent to the Big Bull Creek site.

    Subsequently, Johnson County Parks & Recreation District revised its Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to provide for the planning and financing of large projects and infrastructure developments not covered under the District’s normal operations and maintenance budgets. The CIP provided for the implementation of many of the goals and projects contained in the District’s 20-year Master Action Plan (MAP 2020). Subject to annual review and revisions, each year’s CIP anticipates projects and expenditures for the next five years. Final approval of each year’s CIP comes in August from the Board of Johnson County Commissioners as part of the annual budget process.

    The most current CIP information I found on the Parks District website was approved on January 20, 2010 by the Board of Johnson County Commissioners. It notes that the plan for years 2011-2015 was subject to annual review and Board approval. Suggested funding in the 2010 CIP for the Big Bull Creek Park Master Plan included the following items:
    Development – $60,000 in 2011
    Phase I – $2,000,000 in 2012
    Phase II – $2,000,000 in 2014

    There was no elaboration on that funding and, as anyone can see by driving through the Bull Creek Park area, little or none of that $4,060,000 has ever reached the ground.

    http://jcprd.com/pages/index.cfm

  2. Judith Rogers says:

    As usual, there is much more about this whole issue than the citizens know about. I just know the citizens of Gardner are much farther in debt by millions of dollars to take care of the special interests while the politicians/bureaucrats sell the propaganda that they are saving citizens big dollars. Far from it in my opinion. Cronyism, corrupt government continues much to the detriment of the average citizen and it will continue as long as the people allow themselves to be kept in the dark by their apathy and by not doing their jobs as responsible citizens. If you eat and drink the BS koolaid, you will be paying a high price for it and involving much suffering. I feel sure there is a reason the Jo. Co. Park Board is forcing this eminent domain situation – it is just that the people don’t know what is really happening behind the closed door back rooms.

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