MURRAY – Murray-Calloway County Parks and Recreation will now be entirely controlled by the City of Murray after the Calloway County Fiscal Court voted 4-1 Friday to approve an ownership transfer agreement between the two governments.
The Murray City Council voted 10-1 on Thursday to approve the agreement, with Councilman Danny Hudspeth voting no. In a special-called meeting Friday morning, County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes voted with magistrates Eddie Clyde Hale, Don Cherry and Larry Crutcher to approve the agreement, and District 4 Magistrate Paul Rister voted no.
Imes said he and Murray Mayor Bob Rogers discussed several other issues in conjunction with the park negotiations, including the city’s and county’s separate 911 services, the Murray-Calloway County Animal Shelter and the Calloway County Jail. The negotiations were narrowed down to the subjects of the park system and 911, but the agreement hashed out by County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger and City Attorney Warren Hopkins ultimately dealt solely with the park system. The city and county each have their own separate 911 call centers, and like the park system, Imes said he felt that 911 could be run more efficiently and effectively if it were operated by one entity.
“The court’s thinking was, the city’s out $265,000 a year to operate their piece of (911),” Imes told the Ledger & Times after Friday’s meeting adjourned. “So my thinking, originally, was that we could just swap (the park system with 911). That gives the city $265,000 to put into the park or however they wanted to do it, that’s the city’s business. In turn, we would have saved the city taxpayer $265,000. (City residents) are going to pay the $30 (911 fee included in their annual county tax bill) … but one (911 system) is better for the citizens of Calloway County, as far as safety and security because we’ve got an issue right now where the city residents can’t text 911, and the county can.”
Rogers told the Ledger & Times that he brought Imes’ 911 proposal to the city council in an executive session and the council members were not receptive to that idea.
“I took that to the council, and the council said, ‘Well, we’re not ready to give up our 911 program yet,’” Rogers said. “But what we did do was (tell the county) that we would be glad for them to move in with our 911 program at the police station and have both of them operated separately out of the same facility if they would like and sort of see how things go. But (the county) said they weren’t interested in that, so we just took 911 off the table and that wasn’t brought up anymore.”
Before the vote was taken on Friday, Rister explained his opposition to the agreement. He said one problem he had is that he thought the 911 system should have remained part of the negotiations and should have been part of the agreement.
“I’ve had multiple constituents ask me, ‘Now that the pool’s broke, the park needs money; why are we trying to get out of it?’” Rister said. “I explained to them that that is not our intention and financial obligation is not the motivation for us to want to get out of it. I think we would all like to see a better-run park.
“So one reason I’m against it is because the original agreement is not being accepted, and that’s to swap 911, which to me would be a financial thing that would help the city and the county. To me, this agreement is more like a divorce decree. I feel like, after 40-something years, we’re splitting in a divorce.”
Rister highlighted one part of the agreement that states, “The City and County have equally shared in the costs of maintaining the Park to a standard that reflects our community’s pride in the Park.” He said that phrasing is somewhat deceptive because it is “not equal giving; it should be equal sacrifice.”
“If you look at the county’s budget, we have roughly $5.5 million in revenue that comes through in taxes and we give the park $132,000 (a $120,000 allocation, plus other related contributions like equipment); that’s 2.4% of our budget,” Rister said. “The city gives about $240,000 to the park. Looking at just their general fund income, it’s about $13.4 million. The percentage there is 1.8% that they give. So they give 1.8% of their budget to the park and we give 2.4% of ours. People can say by dollar value, we don’t give the park that much, but we do. We actually give more of what we bring in.”
Rister said that although the city has more revenue than the county and the county budget is in “dire need,” he doesn’t think the park is where the county’s cuts need to come from, at this moment. He said there has been a lot of value the county residents have poured into the park, which he estimated to be about $5 million over the course of the last 40 years or so. He said many people who use the park live outside the city limits, and if he were a city resident, he would be outraged at the Murray City Council because the agreement seems to let county taxpayers off the hook.
Rister recalled how Imes and Rogers had pledged “community unity” when city and county officials gathered downtown on Jan. 1, 2019, to be sworn in, and he said he didn’t think the way the park situation had been handled was in that spirit. Cherry said he respectively disagreed because Imes and Rogers have shown they can work together well.
“This is a compromise, and this is a compromise I think is best for the citizens of Calloway County,” Cherry said. “In a compromise, neither group ever gets all they want. As Paul said, there were a lot of things we wanted and a lot of things the city wanted, but for the direction we need to go with the park … at this juncture, I think it’s the best thing for us to let the city take this park over and form a new direction because the direction we’re going right now is not sustainable.”
The agreement states that the county will meet its obligation to contribute the amount currently designated through June 30, 2022, and “will make a good faith effort to contribute to the City for future budgets on behalf of the Park.” Imes said he intends to propose designating the usual $120,000 allocation to the park in the 2022-23 annual budget as well, but the agreement doesn’t touch on that because he cannot obligate future judges executive or fiscal courts.
Ernstberger addressed one part of the agreement that states county residents would not have to pay any fee greater than anything city residents would have to pay.
“Unless the city were to institute a special, park-only tax or fee that city residents are paying, county residents will not have to pay that kind of fee,” Ernstberger said. “… and in the event that happens, they will not have to pay a fee greater than what city residents are paying.”
As part of the transfer, the park board will dissolve, and Cherry said he wanted to commend everyone who had served on the board over the years. He said he thought Jason Lovett, in particular, deserved a lot of credit for serving as chair for roughly the last 15 years. Cherry requested that a note of appreciation for board members be added to the county’s resolution, and Imes agreed that was a great idea.