Town hall focuses on ES Parks finances, master plan
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission held a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, as one of the first steps toward developing a master plan.
Commission chairman Bill Featherstone kicked off the meeting by presenting a slide presentation created by director Justin Huss, who was unable to attend. Featherstone said the commission is hoping to create a comprehensive master plan by the end of 2020. The public will have many opportunities to give input during that time, Featherstone said.
"It's a tough act balancing the needs of the community versus promoting tourism," Featherstone said. "What the community wants generally trumps everything else. Quite frankly, most of the time we don't know what that is. This is your opportunity to help us understand that."
Featherstone asked that everyone stay civil during the meeting.
"We're all on the same team. We all like parks," Featherstone said, "but please keep in mind as we go through this process, whatever the final document ends up being … that none of us will be completely happy, including myself. But hopefully we will all get enough out of it that we are happy."
Commissioner Christian Super spoke about the parks survey sent out earlier this year, saying the survey was based on a similar one created by the city of Fayetteville. The survey was online for 30 days, Super said, and was shared on the commission's website, email list and social media accounts, as well as commission meetings.
In those 30 days, Super said, the commission received 219 responses with 71 respondents identifying as Eureka Springs residents. Featherstone said that's only 4 percent of the Eureka Springs adult population and asked everyone at the meeting if they had taken the survey. More than half indicated they had not.
"It looks to me like there are more people who haven't taken the survey than have," Featherstone said, "and that's a problem."
Super described the results of the survey, saying an overwhelming amount of respondents said they'd like the commission to renovate existing spaces. The number one way they'd like the commission to do this, Super said, is by renovating natural areas.
"Everyone seems to support existing facilities," Super said.
Super said the commission is using the survey results to develop a master plan for parks. The next phase of the process, Super said, includes another town hall meeting.
"Then we'll start piecing together a master plan and hopefully we'll have a final copy by December 2020,” Super said. "Those dates now are a little up in the air."
That's because of how few people took the survey, Super said.
"Like Bill said, that's 4 percent of our population. That's not enough," Super said. "So we're trying to get a response rate of 10 percent."
Super asked if those in attendance would take the survey if it were available again and the majority agreed they would do so.
"If we decide to extend it, obviously the overall timeline will also slide," Super said.
Mike Shah asked how the commission could get more responses and Super said the commission should consider sending paper copies to the library, community center and other gathering areas Eureka Springs. Pat Costner said most people read the newspapers and suggested that the commission publicize it there. Featherstone said the commission has to do something to get more responses.
"We've got to get sufficient public input," Featherstone said. "It all starts there. That's your foundation."
The commission is open to hearing from citizens who don't live in Eureka Springs city limits, Featherstone said.
"There are a lot of people that identify themselves as residents of Eureka who live outside of town," Featherstone said. "Are they legal citizens with voting rights in city elections? No, but do they have something at stake? In many cases they have more at stake."
Beau Satori said he's been mailing out information in several different ways for years, saying people are not responding to email as much as they used to.
"If you want to dig into a direct response from the citizens, then your water bill is your best avenue," Satori said, "and it's got to be something that's designed to convey importance to the citizenry that they will actually fill out and return."
Featherstone then asked everyone if they have any input on the master plan. Dove Bolerjack currently manages the books for the commission, Featherstone said, but the way the commission handles finances could change soon. Commissioner Scott Bardin, who has experience in accounting, said he has some ideas of how to change things.
"I've made my recommendations to the chair as to how we can be better stewards of taxpayer money," Bardin said.
Featherstone said the commission is going through some growing pains right now and needs people like Bardin to make those kind of suggestions.
"There's always a better way of doing things," Featherstone said. "That's what we continue to search for on the financial side of it. You don't know this yet but you will eventually –– [Bardin] is making some amazing inroads."
When asked what those proposed changes are, Featherstone said he couldn't share that yet.
"This is going to sound evasive. I really don't want to speculate on what it's going to end up looking like," Featherstone said, "because it's ultimately going to be the commission that makes these decisions, not me and not [Bardin]."
The community shouldn't have to wait long to know that information. Featherstone said the commission would vote on Bardin's proposed changes soon.
For more information on the survey, visit www.EurekaParks.com/survey.