A plan to make 4,400 acres of undeveloped park land accessible to the public and to improve existing parks would cost about $255.6 million and would need a 1.34 mill levy increase to be fully funded by 2030.
Officials from Johnson County’s Park and Recreation District presented new details of a master plan last week to county commissioners, putting a price tag on extensive new park development, streamway trails and upgrades to older parks.
Tax increases were included in three scenarios that would fund the plan at various levels. The other two funding plans were for the same amount of time but less of an increase. A one-mill increase would fund 82 percent of the improvements and a 0.75 mill increase would fund 69 percent of the plan.
Although the park district’s board did not officially request any one of those options, during a meeting with commissioners chairman George Schlagel expressed a preference for the one-mill increase or a minimum of 0.75 mills.
One mill equals one dollar of taxes per $1,000 assessed valuation. The park district’s current mill rate is 2.349 mills.
The proposals were put before the commission as members begin to put together the 2016 county budget. The district has independent management of park matters and a separate levy, but the commission has final say over its approval. This is the park district’s first request for a mill levy increase since 2004.
Commissioners received the information in two meetings with park officials last week, but did not debate it. Chairman Ed Eilert asked how many more years it would take to fully accomplish the district’s goals with the lowest increase. The estimate was that it would add about seven years.
Park land that has been sitting idle and inaccessible since the 1990s has been a source of frustration to park enthusiasts and a source of criticism of the commission. About 45 percent of the county’s 9,744 acres of parkland is undeveloped. Development has been stalled because of the recession and lack of funds for ongoing operating expenses to maintain the new parks.
But several events have converged this year to bring park funding back to the forefront. The county’s old parks plan, MAP 2020, was expiring as the economy improved. At the same time, the commission approved the use of the former King Louie bowling alley for a new arts center and home for the county museum. And plans are also afoot to transform the Meadowbrook Golf and Country Club in Prairie Village into a park with surrounding housing development.
Meadowbrook and King Louie are not final yet and have their own timelines. Meadowbrook was conceived as a public-private partnership with tax increment financing. The Arts and Heritage Center at King Louie awaits a bond sale scheduled for June.
The park plan proposes a wide variety of improvements, with Big Bull Creek park getting some of the first attention for development. At 1,933 acres near Edgerton, Big Bull Creek park is the largest undeveloped park and one of the most controversial in part because of its distance from the more populated parts of the county. Officials hope to have some construction underway in two years so people can begin to use the park.
Rieke Lake park near De Soto also would see some construction next year if the plan is approved.
The park plan balances the new development with many upgrades at existing parks and with streamway trail construction. For instance an education center at Oakridge Farm is planned for Shawnee Mission Park and a relocated amphitheater for Ernie Miller Nature Center. Some par three courses and “foot golf” — a hybrid of soccer and golf — might be added to existing county golf courses as a way of pulling in younger participants, said park director Jill Geller.
The nature trails are also a priority, with Coffee Creek, Kill Creek and Camp Branch up for some of the first work.
The presentations were only the beginning of the budget process. Commissioners will take up the budget in earnest in June.