Starke County Park Board Reevaluating Five-Year Plan

starke-county-courthouseEfforts to create a five-year plan for Starke County park facilities have hit a bit of an obstacle. The Starke County Park Board had been discussing the possibility of getting a grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help pay for the planning process. But to qualify for the grant, the county would have to prove that residents’ incomes fall beneath a certain threshold.

During Tuesday’s park board meeting, Starke County Attorney Marty Lucas said he was told the county would not be eligible based on U.S. Census income data, but the county could pay to have an income survey completed. That caused Lucas to question what, if anything, that might accomplish, “If the U.S. Census data shows that we can’t qualify, what are we paying for when we pay for this survey? The cynical part of me kind of came up, and I thought, ‘Well, that seems a little bit fishy.’ I hate to say that, but that’s how I reacted to it because I guess I have to question why somebody else’s data would be more accurate than the census data.”

Now, the park board is considering other options for funding a potential five-year plan. Bass Lake resident Rick Anderson pointed out that the Indiana DNR website lists a few different ways such a plan could be created, “They go through things like who prepares the plan: ‘It is common for plans to be completed in-house by individual park board members and/or park department staff. However, private consultants or regional planners are possible alternatives.’ And it goes on to say public input – it should strive to do that and find common ground.”

Anderson had previously offered to work with other local residents to create a plan, using examples available online. The park board turned down that offer, in favor of finding a professional planner. However, Anderson did provide a list of improvements he’d like to see, as well as how the county might pay for them. “All Starke County residents paid – and I’m included in this – 1.71-percent individual income tax to Starke County in 2015,” he said. “In addition, Bass Lake property owners paid in 2015 thousands of dollars in property taxes. Surely, some of this money can be reallocated to our Bass Lake Beach park.”

He feels there’s widespread agreement that the Bass Lake Beach could be a major asset for Starke County. He also pointed to Wythogan Park in Knox as well as Culver’s park facilities as examples of well-maintained attractions. However, park board members pointed out that these are run by park departments, something the county doesn’t have. Starke County also currently lacks a budget for parks and recreation.