Harvey County's budget hearing recently was not as quiet as it has been in the past. Though some hearings have gone without comment, county residents Dan Harms and Jeremy Kindy were on hand to voice their continued opposition to the proposed sale of Camp Hawk and ask the commission to reconsider a vote on the issue.
While the county commissioners heard out the local patrons, there remained a consensus to proceed with the vote and all commissioners also stated that they would be in favor of whatever decision is reached by the public, whether to sell or keep Camp Hawk (though commissioner Ron Krehbiel was quick to point out a vote in favor of selling does not mean that the commission has to).
As the proposed sale is destined to be a ballot item this fall, The Kansan scrutinized three main points of emphasis that continue to come up in the discussion regarding Camp Hawk.
One of the main arguments commissioners continue to make regarding a potential sale revolves around a lack of patronage at Camp Hawk (in comparison with other county parks). The fact of the matter, though, is that no hard numbers exist to quantify annual traffic at the three county parks.
Following passage of the initial resolution, the commission turned to the Road and Bridge Department to place a tracker at Camp Hawk to get a better idea of official park traffic. County Administrator Anthony Swartzendruber noted there were issues with the tracker, though, and no official statistics recorded — with no follow-up attempts made to track traffic.
Data that can be measured to get some idea of usage at county parks include shelter reservations, boating permits and camping permits (the only daily fees charged at any of the parks) — with the first being the most pertinent for Camp Hawk. In 2016, it was reported that 52 total reservations were made for the building at Camp Hawk. The same year, 75 reservations were made for the community building at West Park and 46 reservations were recorded for Volunteer Hall at East Park. A total of 60 reservations were made at Camp Hawk in 2015, with 50 made in 2014, both outpacing requests made for Volunteer Hall (49 and 34, respectively) at East Park both years.
So far in 2017, Camp Hawk continues to be the second most used county park for building reservations, but Parks Director Kass Miller stated it is hard to solely take those numbers into account when considering overall park usage.
"That would really not be a very good snapshot of how many people come in and out of the parks," Miller said.
Commissioners have noted that the talk of limited usage comes from staff reports and that is what led them to take a possible sale under consideration in the first place.
"It just didn't seem like it was drawing the people and the activity that it had in the past," Krehbiel said.
Disc golf, it has been repeated, is not the sole reason behind the push to keep Camp Hawk, but it has been a large part of the discussion in terms of the amenities used at Camp Hawk, as it is a unique feature among the three county parks.
Additionally, the disc golf course at Camp Hawk stands out among other courses in and just outside the county limits. It is one of only two courses (of eight total) to feature more than nine holes and holds the esteem of being the highest rated among local courses by the Professional Disc Golf Association. In fact, it is one of the top five rated courses (of nearly 30) in a 30-mile radius.
"Based on feedback that we have received, we understand there are some things that make this course unique compared to others in Newton," Swartzendruber said.
Currently, the course is one of two (along with Centennial Park) in Newton, while there are two more in Hesston and one each in North Newton, Peabody, Goessel and Moundridge.
Though there has been talk about moving the course at Camp Hawk should the park be sold, keeping it within the county, there have been no concrete intentions made beyond the designation of any funds from a potential sale to go towards park maintenance.
"What has been said firmly is what's in the resolution. It says the intent of the commissioners is to deposit the money from the sale of Camp Hawk into a special Harvey County Parks fund to use for the enjoyment of Harvey County Parks patrons in the other two parks," Swartzendruber said. "I think how that ultimately is determined is a future decision."
Outside of disc golf, other amenities offered at Camp Hawk include the shelter house, a lighted basketball court, baseball/softball backstop and fishing pond. Additionally, Camp Hawk offers the easiest accessibility, as it is two miles from Interstate 135, while East Park is seven miles from the Interstate and West Park is 7.5 miles from Highway 50.
Questions regarding why maintenance issues at the county parks were not addressed with cost savings in the budget over the past few years were brought up by Harms at the budget hearing, who pointed out differences of more than $100,000 (shown in the county's independent audits) in what was budgeted versus what was actually spent.
Swartzendruber pointed out that about 60 percent of those savings, however, came from personnel, noting that the county's practice is to budget for full personnel needs. Due to departmental turnover or insurance plan amendments among individual staff, those numbers may drop, which is what Swartzendruber said those differences between the budgeted and actual numbers could be attributed to.
In addition to not knowing what those actual personnel savings may end up being, Swartzendruber stated county policy would not have allowed for those savings to go towards any other budgetary items like parks maintenance.
"We don't allow them to utilize personnel savings for anything else. If there's personnel savings, that goes back into the fund in what they're operated out of," Swartzendruber said.
Maintenance issues remain, however, at all of the county parks. Selling Camp Hawk, since the initial passage of the resolution, has been looked at as a means to take care of those issues amidst tighter budgetary pressures. However, no sales estimate has been received on the property — and a sale would lead to the county getting rid of its most minimal financial burden among the county parks.
Currently, average losses (revenue generated versus expenses recorded) over the past five years have been $119,533 for East Park, $115,621 for West Park and $13,379 for Camp Hawk.
Harvey County Parks Department has a staff of 6.46 full-time equivalency employees currently, and Miller noted priorities remain the same for all parks to make sure they are a safe, clean and enjoyable environment for all. With the county looking at a projected ending general fund balance of $4,371,534 for 2018 (more than double what is required), Kindy questioned why those additional funds couldn't go towards maintenance as a means to address that same goal.
On Nov. 7, the entirety of the voting public will have the chance to voice its opinion and give the county commission final direction on whether to keep or sell Camp Hawk.