The Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation Department is spending more than $23 million over the next two years to shore up its parks before a looming funding crisis hits.
The updates at Carey Grove, Flowing Well, Meadowlark and West parks, as well as the Monon Greenway, will be paid for with a portion of the $59 million in revenue the parks department expects to receive from various sources over the next four years. Michael Klitzing, director of the Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation department, said many of the community’s parks need reimagining as they meet—or exceed—their 15-year lifespan. “We’re at that point where we’re needing to reinvest in our parks to ensure they remain the high quality that’s expected in our community,” Klitzing said.
Klitzing isn’t bothered by the fact that the community’s $96 million in desired parks projects vastly outpaces the department’s resources; he said that’s how every community’s master plan looks.
Instead, he said it’s critical elected officials start working to address the fact that parks funding is likely to fall in the next decade. By 2026, for example, a local income tax created by the Central Park Bond will sunset, meaning the parks department will lose a funding source that accounts for $17 million—roughly 28%—of the parks department’s funding over the next four years.
And, even though Carmel’s city council voted to charge developers a higher Park Impact Fee next year, the $4,882 per home revenue stream may dwindle with Carmel’s supply of developable land. The department’s master plan anticipates those Park Impact Fees will generate $16 million by 2024, but there’s only so much land left to develop.
“Certainly, we’re not in dire straits, but one of my goals as director is making sure what we’re doing is sustainable,” Klitzing said. “It’s paramount that parks and the township and the city work together to figure out what we’re going to do.”
The department will have to find new funding sources or face the deferral of more than $13 million in capital repairs or replacements. New projects will see an even-bigger impact, as nearly $24 million in new construction could be delayed.
The more immediate improvements planned for Carmel’s parks might have to suffice in the thin times to come. Those projects are:
— At Flowing Well Park, 5100 E. 116th St., $1.9 million will pay for new restrooms, stabilization of Cool Creek’s banks, rerouting existing trails, the addition of 18 parking spaces, a new pathway from 116th Street and improvements to the well house.
— Carey Grove Park’s $2 million in improvements would update the playground and bring exercise equipment, shade structures, restrooms, a picnic shelter, half a basketball court, swinging benches and a parking lot to the 5.8-acre park at 14001 N. Carey Rd.
— Improvements focusing on the core area of West Park, at 2700 W. 116th St., would upgrade the existing playground and splash pad. New construction in 2020 paid for by the impact fee will pay for a road to connect the new and old parts of the 120.57-acre park, as well as new shelters. All the improvements are expected to cost $4.6 million.
— Meadowlark Park, an 18.59-acre park at 450 Meadow Lane, will get a restroom, shelter, parking lot, a fishing pier and as many as four pickleball courts. The projects, to start in 2021, are expected to cost $3.5 million.
The $23 million price tag on those projects will be paid for by the parks department’s share of the proceeds of a larger township bond sale. A planned roundabout and parking lot at Central Park will be paid for by the sunsetting local income tax.
The income tax proceeds have also been used for land acquisition for future park development. Klitzing said the parks department acquired a 13.5-acre parcel south of 116th Street, along Hazel Dell Parkway, for future development as a trailhead along the future White River Greenway. The department purchased the land at 11299 Hazel Dell Parkway from JAVCA LLC for $646,000.
In its master plan, the parks department suggests establishing a cumulative building fund, fed by a dedicated tax levy, to purchase future parkland and remodel existing facilities.