Filling the room at the Harvey County Commission meeting on Monday, a number of local residents (and some non-local) were on hand to once again address the potential sale of Camp Hawk during a citizen's forum.
After a small group spoke out against the sale at last week's commission meeting, a more sizable group was on hand Monday to discuss the matter further. Brandon Nelson was one of a trio of patrons at the previous meeting and spoke more in-depth this week, raising a number of concerns about the potential sale and the ongoing process.
Concerns about the timeline of the process were chief among Nelson's issues, both in terms of the protest period itself (45 days from first publication of the resolution of sale) and the overarching discussion about these actions in regards to Camp Hawk.
There were comments made by commissioners at the last meeting about holding an evening meeting to facilitate public comment on the proposed sale, but Nelson questioned why no such efforts were made and citizens were not consulted prior to the passing of the resolution.
"It appears to me as though you employed a brilliant political strategy to systematically avoid anybody in Harvey County knowing about this," Nelson said.
With the presence of advisory boards and opportunities for public discussion, Nelson questioned if bringing the issue to a point of protest, which he stated feels as though it is being "forced down our throat," was the best option available.
Both county administrator John Waltner and Commissioner Randy Hague noted the idea of selling Camp Hawk was brought before the Parks board more than a year ago, but couldn't speak to why it was never discussed by the advisory board. Hague noted that the commission takes a lack of feedback to mean the parties are in agreement on a given issue.
"This park is important. We're trying to involve you," said commission chair Chip Westfall. "We're not throwing you into the creek."
"We're trying to survive and still do the best for the citizens of Harvey County," added commissioner Ron Krehbiel. "Whatever the people want to do, I will support. We're trying to do what we think we need to do."
Having added Camp Hawk to the Parks department 40 years ago, Nelson also took issue with some of the commission's justifications for the sale, namely the idea that the county never wished to operate three parks and took on Camp Hawk because of the situation the Newton YMCA was in.
"It may have been a shotgun wedding, but you married her," Nelson said.
Building a shelter (that is routinely rented) and a "yard," for the disc golf course, that property was looked after for 25 to 30 years before support started to trail off, and Nelson said patrons who use that park frequently have noticed.
Several of those present at Monday's meeting were avid disc golfers, but they also noted they have seen people make use of the park for other recreational activities (i.e. walking, fishing, geocaching, etc.).
During the midst of this discussion, the commission stated it has tried to include the golfers in future plans, allowing them to help plan a new course if it comes to that. It is clear from the feedback on Monday, though, the disc golfers are adamant about keeping the course in its current location.
Clearwater's Jeff Laha noted he has played courses from Minnesota to Texas and said Camp Hawk is one of the most challenging he plays, coming to Newton 15 to 20 times a year to do just that. Santa Fe Middle School teacher Chris Smith stated that nothing compares to the course at Camp Hawk and he said it is the only thing that keeps him in Harvey County. Meanwhile, Newton resident Brandon Hasty pointed out that there are ways to make revenue off of disc golf and most of those who spoke at the meeting were open to course fees.
Revenue and budgets have been a focal point in the discussion of the potential sale. While the commission has noted proceeds from the sale of Camp Hawk would go towards enhancements at the other county parks, Nelson questioned why the group couldn't freeze spending on improvements and make maintenance of all three parks a priority.
Once again, Hague voiced his concerns about the looming tax lid and what that means for the county and, potentially, the parks. While he sees county residents potentially voting in favor of keeping Camp Hawk, he is not as optimistic in his prediction of what would happen if there was a vote to raise taxes (to raise the county's budget) in order to provide the necessary funding to maintain all three parks.
Commissioners noted they have heard input both in favor and opposed to the sale, but the vocal group at Monday's meeting spoke to the many benefits of Camp Hawk and asked that all of that is taken into consideration before any final decision is made.
In other business, the county commission:
Congratulated the Harvey County Extension Office Master Gardner program for winning the state "Search for Excellence" award for its community giving garden.
Approved the hiring of Robert Carlton as the Department on Aging Director effective Oct. 10, with a salary of $51,126.40.
Approved the appointment of Dorothy Nickel Friesen to the Harvey County Prairie View advisory board, waiving the second reading.
Learned from Emergency Management Director Gary Denny that the department is picking first responder meetings back up with school districts this week and will be monitoring for severe weather on Tuesday.
Heard a sales tax report from financial director Anthony Swartzendruber, noting an increase of 4.34 percent in September (though collections are down overall this year). He stated he will also have a draft proposal for a Capital Improvement Plan project to present in a couple of weeks.
Changed a jury room request for proposal from the the original capital improvement plan estimate ($40,000) to an amended $15,500 proposal so the district court can start work on the project.