Common Council votes 'NO' to splash park improvements

The Terry R. Abbett Splash Park in Drover Park, Huntington, sits unused on a hot sunny afternoon in July. Mayor Richard Strick decided not to open the park this summer amid concerns of spreading COVID-19. On Tuesday, July 14, Huntington City Common Council voted against renovating the park with new fixtures and installing a new water filtration system that would help prevent the spread of such viruses.
The Terry R. Abbett Splash Park in Drover Park, Huntington, sits unused on a hot sunny afternoon in July. Mayor Richard Strick decided not to open the park this summer amid concerns of spreading COVID-19. On Tuesday, July 14, Huntington City Common Council voted against renovating the park with new fixtures and installing a new water filtration system that would help prevent the spread of such viruses. Photo by Lauren Winterfeld.

The Huntington City Common Council failed to pass an ordinance on Tuesday evening, July 14, that would have allowed the Huntington Parks and Recreation Department to improve the Terry R. Abbett Splash Park.

The splash pad, a popular attraction in Drover Park, Huntington, is currently shut down due to the mayor’s concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter to the council, Mayor Richard Strick explained, “My decision to close the splash pad this year due to COVID-19 was driven by concerns about moisture droplets transmitting the virus through the air and via shared surfaces.”

Steve Yoder, superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department, addressed the council Tuesday night, to ask for their approval to spend on the project $395,488.46 of the park’s $1.13 million cash balance from the park and recreation budget.

“I am not asking for anything from the general fund,” Yoder stated, “I am asking for park money … (that) must be used in the park system.”

Yoder explained, “Underneath the concrete pad is a of couple broken pipes. This has led to the increase in gallons being used and the cost of the water bill each year over the past several years going up.”

In his letter to council Strick said the new splash pad would feature a water treatment system that would not only “help mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19” but “also reduce our water usage from approximately 4.4 million gallons of water per season to approximately 12,000 gallons of water per season.”

The cost of the new water system would be eligible for reimbursement under the CARES Act dollars that have been allocated for the city – a total of $100,000 reimbursement to the parks and recreation fund.

Originally, a revamp of the splash pad had been projected to take place in 2023.

Yoder and Strick brought forth the idea to council to move the renovations up to this year, to take advantage of the unfortunate closing of the pad due to the pandemic.

“Rather than closing the site a second time,” Strick wrote to council, “I think it is wise for us to make the most of this season lost to COVID-19 to prepare for the future.”

“Several of the current components on the pad itself are in bad shape,” Yoder noted. “We have done what we can do Band-Aid those, but … only so much fixing can be done since everything is underground.”

The Council Member Paul Pike, District 2, inquired about the time it would take to finish the project, which Yoder said would be a total of three months from start to finish.

The council failed to approve the appropriation ordinance, with P.J. Felton, At Large; Dave Funk, District 4; Jerry Meehan Jr., District 3; and Pike voting against the ordinance.

In later discussion, Council Member Seth Marshall, At Large, voiced his support for the project, pointing out that the parks department moneys should be used to improve the parks.

“I just don't think it makes any sense to hoard money. We have funds here, and that's what they've been approved for, and we are denying them the ability to make improvements,” he added. “If we are not spending the tax dollars, the (property tax) rate needs to be reduced.”

Pike contended, “There is a lot of things going on. Who knows what’s going to happen the next six months? That’s where my head is at. Why can’t we build it in the spring and have it ready for June? That’s why I asked how long it’s going to be.”

Pike also said he then thought he should have proposed to table the issue, rather than vote no.

Charles Chapman, District 1, who also voted to pass the ordinance, pointed out, “Another thing … it is CARES money. You get $100,000. So, 25 percent of the cost is taken off the table. We passed up on that $100,000.”

Marshall added, “When I look at budgets and I look at funds that can't be moved to another department for another project, I'm trying to be a responsible steward of the budget.”

Strick asked the council what additional information would be helpful for council members to reintroduce the issue at a later time.

“I was a bit caught off guard by the lack of reaching out on these questions and concerns so I'd like to make sure we have the information for you,” he said. “This is a partnership and I want to make sure you have what you need to make a decision. I thought some of these items were covered, but I was incorrect on that …  please do reach out in the upcoming meetings.”

The council passed two items presented by Bryn Keplinger, director of Community Development, allowing the city to proceed with administering the $250,000 in grant funding awarded by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) under its new COVID-19 response program.

Ordinance 7-C-20 amended Chapter 101 of the city’s Code of Ordinance as it relates to fair housing requirements. Essentially, the city has updated its legal definition of “family” to match the most up to date fair housing language so that Huntington may participate in the OCRA programs.

Resolution 5-R-20 authorized the mayor to take the appropriate steps to implement the COVID-19 response program to get funds to small businesses dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

In other business, the council passed a waiver of non-compliance for Continental Structural Plastics.