Kosciusko County Commissioner Cary Groninger (R) talks about the county parks and recreation board at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting after county attorney Ed Ormsby (L) read it aloud. Also pictured is Commissioner Brad Jackson (C). Not pictured is Commissioner Bob Conley. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Kosciusko County Commissioner Cary Groninger (R) talks about the county parks and recreation board at Tuesday’s commissioner meeting after county attorney Ed Ormsby (L) read it aloud. Also pictured is Commissioner Brad Jackson (C). Not pictured is Commissioner Bob Conley. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
People have said they wanted to see the county get more involved in parks and recreation, and on Tuesday the Kosciusko County Commissioners took a step in that direction by unanimously approving an ordinance establishing the Kosciusko County Department of Parks and Recreation.

About a dozen people in attendance for the ordinance generously applauded the action.

County attorney Ed Ormsby presented the ordinance to the Commissioners at their meeting Tuesday morning. The Board of Commissioners is the executive body and legislative body of county government.

In reading parts of the ordinance, Ormsby said as of Jan. 1, 2020, Indiana Code 36-10-3 authorizes a county executive to adopt an ordinance creating a new county department of parks and recreation (DPR) if one does not already exist in the county.

“Having a department of parks and recreation established under Indiana law is one of the two requirements to qualify for Land and Water Conservation Fund Grants in Indiana,” he said.

The second requirement is a current Indiana Department of Natural Resources-approved five-year parks and recreation master plan on file with the Division of Outdoor Recreation. Other grants and accreditations also can require a department of parks and recreation for qualification and funding, the ordinance states.

“Parks are important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life in a community, increasing the health of families and youth and contributing to the economic and environmental well-being of a county,” Ormsby read from the ordinance.

The ordinance also states that quality parks can improve the local tax base and increase property values. Studies have shown that private property values increase the value of privately owned land the closer such land is to parks. This increase in private property value due to the proximity to parks increases property tax revenues and improves local economies.

“Quality parks and recreation are cited as one of the top reasons that business cite in relocation decisions in a number of U.S. studies,” Ormsby said.

Skipping a few paragraphs that further highlight the benefits of quality parks and recreation, he said Indiana law allows a department of parks and recreation to be run by a volunteer citizen board without salaries. A department of parks and recreation can legally act as the public fundraising arm of the parks and recreation system.

The ordinance states a department of parks and recreation is “hereby created and established for the county and shall be called the Kosciusko County Department of Parks and Recreation” (KCDPR). The KCDPR shall consist of a park and recreation citizen board and may consist of a superintendent and other personnel that the KCDPR Board determines, subject to the ordinance.

Members of the KCDPR Board, the superintendent and other personnel “shall be volunteers and no person of the KCDPR shall be offered or paid a salary, wage, fee or other compensation unless and upon submission of a request to the County Wage Committee and written and specific approval from the County Commissioners and the County Council,” the ordinance states.

In accordance with Indiana Code, the composition of the KCDPR Board will include two members appointed by the Commissioners and the two members must be affiliated with different political parties; two members appointed by the County Council and they must be affiliated with different political parties; and one member appointed by the county auditor.

All members of the KCDPR Board shall have the same rights, including the right to vote. A vacancy in the seat of a member of the KCDPR Board shall be filled by the appointing authority. A municipal executive, a member of a county fiscal body, a member of the county executive or a member of the municipal fiscal body may not serve on a KCDPR Board.

The initial appointments to a KCDPR Board are for two- and four-year terms respectively for the County Commissioner and for the County Council appointments, and a one-year term for the county auditor appointment. As a term expires for a member on the KCDPR Board, each new appointment is for a four-year term. All terms expire on the first Monday in January, but a member continues in office until the member’s successor is appointed.

An appointing authority shall make initial appointments within 90 days after the creation of the KCDPR. If an appointment for any new term is not made by the first Monday in April, the incumbent shall serve another term. If a vacancy on the board occurs, the appointing authority shall appoint a person to serve for the remainder of the unexpired term.

The ordinance states the KCDPR Board shall be represented by the county attorney for legal matters. The Board shall prepare and submit an annual budget in the same manner as other departments of county government and the county auditor shall serve as the secretary of the Board.

“This ordinance shall be in full force and effect upon and after its passage and approval according to the laws of the state of Indiana,” Ormsby concluded.

County Commissioner Cary Groninger said, “This is something that we’ve been working on for some time as we walked through our Forward Kosciusko comprehensive plan. This is something that came up as a pretty regular topic when we did our different engagements with the community. We had a lot of comments about this.”

The comprehensive plan was approved by the Area Plan Commission last week and will come to the Commissioners later this month.

“So this plan hasn’t even been adopted yet but we’re already seeing the positives come from that plan where we reached out to the community. We looked for input from you, from everybody, from the whole community on what they’d like to see in Kosciusko County. This is one of the things that continued to come to the top of things that people would really like to see the county get more involved with,” Groninger said.

A lot of the interest is focused around the trails and connectivity between the communities in the county.

“So, we’re pretty excited about what this could do, to really create that quality of life here in Kosciusko County that we all want to see. That’s what’s going to attract people to want to live here. I really believe that’s going to be their economic driver for the future. ... The jobs are going to follow the people instead of people following jobs. People are going to live where they want to live, so I really think this is an important step for Kosciusko County, that we’re able to move forward and establish this board,” Groninger said.

He said the board is going to open up a lot of grant opportunities that the county currently is disqualified for because it doesn’t have a parks board and doesn’t have a parks department.

Some of the next steps will be to establish a parks plan and a trails plan for the county.

“I’m really excited for what this can do for our county,” Groninger stated.

Commissioner Brad Jackson said he appreciated all the work that was put into this and he liked the fact that it was volunteer.

Commissioner Bob Conley said in talking to people from Syracuse to Silver Lake, they had a lot of questions which are addressed in the ordinance.

Jackson made a motion to approve the ordinance and Conley seconded it. It was approved 3-0.