Edgerton taxpayers deserve better, and so do the rest of Johnson County taxpayers who were convinced in the late 1990s to purchase park land while it was affordable. Fourteen years later, no development at Big Bull Creek Park has taken place.
The 1,400 acre park is slightly smaller now, after Edgerton condemned part of the land and purchased it for $196,000. The property was necessary for a joint sewer project between Gardner and Edgerton.
The condemnation was necessary, according to Michael Meadors, director of the Johnson County Parks and Recreation district because the property was purchased with a $6 million bond issue. Meadors said according to the park district’s attorney, the $196,000 Edgerton paid to purchase the property can only be used to purchase additional property nearby, or be used to pay down debt.
Sounds good, but we’ve seen public entities do legal maneuvers around statute before when it’s to their benefit. We’ve also seen them hide behind legal counsel when it’s to their advantage. At the very least, if the $196,000 is indeed used to pay down debt, the same amount needs to be set aside in the next budget to develop a portion of Big Bull Creek Park. Not just for Edgerton residents, but for all Johnson County residents who in good faith originally got behind the bond issue.
We understand the necessity of buying land to set aside for parkland before it’s developed, but we contend taxpayers who passed the bond issue to purchase the park in 1998 never understoond that it would take generations to create a place for residents to walk or picnic out of the forested land.
Currently, no one is allowed on the public park property; at the very least the money could be used to designate hiking or nature trails for county residents. But the Big Bull Creek Park land-grab is only a symptom of the true problem.
For an appointed board, the county park and recreation board has too much power and not enough oversight. The board has a 2-mill taxing authority with no balancing from the public’s eye in regular elections. In the 1950s, a state statute was narrowly passed establishing the board; it’s the only one of its kind in Kansas.
It’s unforunate that the Charter Commission, which meets every 10 years to examine county policies, didn’t consider recommending changes to the park district’s structure. Now it’s up to the county commission and Johnson County citizens.
To protect the voters of Johnson County and to afford them a voice in the use of their tax monies, the county commission needs to direct legal staff to investigate amending the park statute to restore proper checks and balances.
Taxapayers deserve better.