City getting online feedback on parks referendum

Few turn out for open house meetings

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Franklin Park is one of more than two dozen parks operated by the city of Shawano. An April advisory referendum will ask voters if they think the city should borrow $1.85 million for renovations to Franklin, as well as Memorial and Smalley parks.

City officials are getting a lot of community feedback about an April referendum on borrowing for Shawano park improvements, but they’re not getting it in person.

Only three people showed up Wednesday night for the Park and Recreation Department’s second informational open house meeting at City Hall.

Roughly a dozen turned out for the first one last week, and that was during an ice storm.

Additional open house meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. March 7 and March 15 at City Hall, 127 S. Sawyer St.

“There’s more chatter online,” said Matt Hendricks, park and recreation director.

The department has put out five or six posts over the last few weeks on Facebook and the city’s website explaining the park development plans.

Hendricks said internet analytics show that those posts have been seen by anywhere from 3,500 to 5,500 people. He said 20 to 40 people have responded with “likes” or smiley faces.

Hendricks has also gone to several community venues to explain the referendum, including the Rotary Club and Shawano Pathways, where attendance has been better.

“It seems to be better when you go to their place,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks said the online response has been far more positive than negative, by a margin of 15- or 20-to-1.

There have been few objections to the proposed improvements, he said, but those opposed to the referendum “are not wanting to see their taxes go up.”

The advisory referendum on the April 4 ballot will ask whether the city should borrow additional money for development of the Franklin and Smalley parks and a splash pad to replace the kiddie pool at Memorial Park.

The referendum question will ask residents whether the city should borrow up to $1.85 million for the projects.

The 20-year loan would mean an estimated annual tax increase of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $25 for a $100,000 home.

The Memorial Park splash pad, described as a playground with water features, caught the interest of several visitors at last week’s open house after seeing a video of similar splash pads in use elsewhere.

Hendricks said most of the interest in and conversation about the park development plan seems to be centered on the splash pad.

The borrowing would also fund improvements at two other parks.

At Franklin Park, the improvements would include an amphitheater for music, movies and community events; public restrooms, and pavilion space available for public rental; a water fountain with benches and trees for visual interest; parking, electrical, landscaping and infrastructure to accommodate community events; walkways, picnic tables and benches; and space for a future playground.

At Smalley Park, plans call for a park pavilion with restroom facilities and a rentable picnic shelter; a canoe and kayak launch; boat landings and boat slips; improved parking, lighting and security; walking trails that connect all of the major park features; trees and other native plantings, including native plantings along the waterway to deter geese; and continued revitalization of the beach and the improvement of beach amenities.

All of the plans were based on community input from a survey that asked what people want to see developed in Shawano’s park system, Hendricks said.

The parks and recreation department typically has an annual capital improvements budget of $250,000 a year, meaning it could take about eight years to accomplish the proposed projects if none of that money were to be spent on any other park improvements.

The additional borrowing would allow the improvements to be made within about two years, though the actual work would probably not get underway until next year, Hendricks said.

Even if the referendum is approved by voters, it will be up to the Shawano Common Council to approve the borrowing.

The parks and recreation department would also continue to pursue grant money, Hendricks said, to cut some of the costs.

The city was able to attract $65,000 in donations for the first phase of development at Franklin Park, which is not part of the referendum package.

According to Hendricks, $50,000 has already been pledged toward Smalley Park, which will offset some of the referendum borrowing, and additional grants and funding sources will be looked into.