When The Town of Camp Verde bought a large park last year, it brought the promise of much needed ball fields for local children after decades of demand.
Then the economy tanked, a new Town Council was voted in and the town found itself having to tighten the purse strings more than ever before.
But plans were already in the works for the 118-acre park that the town bought from the U.S. Forest Service near State Route 260 and McCracken Lane; the town awarded a $49,000 contract to a consulting firm to come up with a comprehensive park design, a process that involved several public meetings to get a sense of what the community wanted from the park.
The brainstorming produced ideas for everything from a rodeo complex to a dog park, but it was the ball fields that ended up at the top of nearly everybody’s priority list. The town’s one field at Butler Park doesn’t come close to meeting current demand when so many of the town’s Little League teams have to travel to other cities just to play ball.
It was that need for ball fields that led the Town Council late last month to go ahead with the plan to pay an estimated $100,000 for design costs for access roads, lighting and a place to play ball. The designs will be on paper only, destined to sit on a shelf until the economy turns around and money is available to actually create something tangible.
There’s no telling when that might be, and the thought of spending money on a plan that can’t be implemented didn’t sit well with some town residents and a few Town Council members.
Mayor Bob Burnside said several people had approached him questioning the wisdom of moving ahead with spending money on a park plan that would be collecting dust for the foreseeable future when there were debates about cutting other services offered by the town.
Some were still interested in seeing the town build a park across the highway near the old airstrip, a location the town had originally considered before the land the town now owns was put up for sale by the Forest Service looking to raise money for its new ranger station.
The idea of continuing to chase that idea was shot down almost immediately by several members of the Town Council.
“I went from kindergarten to putting my kids in college while waiting for ball fields, and we’re still waiting for ball fields,” Councilwoman Norma Garrison said. “We can’t afford to buy any more land for a park across the street unless there’s some money I don’t know about.”
Councilwoman Carol German said she felt the money budgeted for park planning could be held aside in case something else came up that the town needed to pay for, or less money could be used to make actual physical improvements to parks the town already owns like Rezzonico Black Bridge Park on the banks of the Verde River.
“We could put [the money] on hold for some of the parks we have … so it looks more inviting then when you drive by and all you see is desert and an outhouse.”
German also expressed her irritation at hearing the land referred to as a “118-acre” park, when not all of the land is suitable for use.
German was joined by Burnside and Councilwoman Jackie Baker in supporting the idea of not spending the money, but the majority felt that it was time to move forward.
It all came down to being “shovel ready,” Garrison said, a term recently popularized after the federal government started gearing up to pass out stimulus money for infrastructure projects across the nation.
Originally, the idea was to get a lot of the money for developing the park through a grant from the state.
But Arizona soon ran into serious financial problems of its own, and the money dried up.
Having a plan on the shelf and ready to go could give Camp Verde an edge when the economy eventually does turn around and the money starts flowing again, Garrison said.
Not everyone is convinced that having an edge is worth it when the council had to sharpen its budget knives and slice up other services residents have come to expect.
Of course, the debate over park planning could be a moot point if the economy gets worse.
Town Manager Michael Scannell said he had made his budget recommendations for the current fiscal year on the assumption that the economy wouldn’t get any better or worse. If the purse strings are tightened further, Scannell said he will come before the council with a revised forecast as he has in the past.
That was good enough for Councilman Pete Roulette, who said he trusts Scannell with keeping a conservative eye on the taxpayers’ money and that if the land was there and the money was budgeted, it was time to move forward with a definite plan.
“This town always seems to move two feet forward and one foot back,” Roulette said.
“There’s nothing that irritates me more than a government that spends, spends, spends, while the rest of us have to pinch pennies to get by,” Camp Verde resident Cheri Wischmeyer. “We could use the money for something else.”
Resident Bob Wier, who participated in the public park design meetings earlier this year, said that in the end, it was all about the children.
“You can’t put a price tag on kids, as far as I’m concerned,” Wier said.