- Vandalism, apathy are main problems
Some county parks may be closed due to budget cuts and vandalism. Apathy is also a factor.
Two people attended the Clay County Parks and Recreation Board's monthly meeting at Staunton's Optimist Park Tuesday evening. A larger crowd from the community was expected after two Porta-Pots in the park were damaged by fire Friday afternoon.
"I was expecting a standing-room-only crowd after that article in the paper," said Doris Easter, a veteran board member of more than 20 years. "It's really disheartening."
The rest of the board members shared her opinion, but tried to remain hopeful.
"Sure it's disappointing, but we are happy about the ones that came," Board President Kevin Girton said. "We have to remember one person can change the world."
Diane and Dave Fry, of Staunton, also expected a crowd when they came to the meeting to find out more about the board and what to do to help protect their community park from vandalism.
"I really figured there would be a crowd here stomping their feet, yelling, 'It's our money, what are you doing about this?'" Diane said. "People are coming from all over the state to this little park (because of the softball games.) We love this park. Our community needs to come together and watch this park, protect it."
The Clay County Parks and Recreation Board's budget was around $43,000 but has been cut almost in half during recent years.
The court-appointed five-member board struggles with vandalism and apathy while trying to maintain community parks for residents in Carbon, Center Point, Coalmont, Knights-ville, Poland, Saline City and Staunton.
Several of these parks need new playground equipment, but purchasing equipment to meet new safety standards costs more than $60,000 for each park. Maintenance cost increase yearly
"We've gone before the commissioners in the past to ask for more money, but there isn't any extra in their budget so we don't have any either," said John Mace, vice-president of the board. "The reality of budget cuts is that we have to discuss closing parks that have high crime incidents."
The Carbon, Coalmont and Poland parks top the list of possible closures. These three parks are not used very often and experience constant vandalism which makes them too expensive to maintain, according to board members.
"When things wear out, that's great," Mace said. "But when things are destroyed by vandalism, it's frustrating."
Doug Barr, a board member and chief deputy at the Clay County Sheriff's Department, agreed.
"It sounds like minor stuff, but when you pile all of it up, it becomes a major problem," he said. "It's an expensive problem."
As soon as caretakers fix something, it's destroyed within hours, sometimes minutes. Past acts of vandalism include rafters cut out of pavilions; electrical wiring, fixtures and light bulbs stolen; playground equipment pulled from concrete bases embedded deep in the ground and destroyed water fixtures. But the weirdest vandalism occurs in the rest rooms, according to Girton.
"Why would you steal a toilet seat?" he asked. "There is no rhyme or reason to any of it."
The other four parks -- Staunton, Knightsville, Center Point and Saline City -- also experience occasional vandalism, but are used much more. Higher community involvement at the parks is key to keeping incidents of vandalism low, according to board members.
"It seems that small towns without a town board or some type of structured governing body -- areas where neighbors don't know each other -- have more problems in their parks," said board member Marcella House. "Authorities really need to make an example out of a few of the offenders to prove a point. They need to enforce the fines. (Vandalism) would stop then, if they knew they were going to get in trouble."
Although it is not on the agenda, board members are expecting residents in Carbon, Coalmont and Poland to be upset about the future possibility of their parks being closed. They remain hopeful it will move the residents into action to save their parks.
"(When park closures are threatened) people show up at a park board meeting ready for a fight," Easter said. "They really need to put that emotion to good use and get involved with their park."
"The parks are open for people to enjoy, and we want them to," Mace said. "But we have a small group of individuals out there tearing things up without respect for their community or the taxpayers that foot the bill for their actions."