Skate Park seen surviving city-county lands dispute

Skateboarders can relax.

The city will continue with Phase I of the proposed skate park, and construction will begin soon, despite the county’s denial of Program Open Space grant money to help pay for it.

A dispute this week between the mayor and county executive involved that funding, but on Tuesday it was confirmed the project is still on target.

Chris Demone, who handles public relations for the mayor’s office, said the skate park, on South Park Drive, will “move forward” and that Mayor Jim Ireton will have an announcement about it in coming days.

Phase 1 has been fully funded and the city will apply for funding for Phase 2.

Phase I will be 5,500-square feet. The plan is for the second phase, depending on funding from the Department of Natural Resources, to be an additional 6,000 to 7,000 square feet. The city budgeted $216,000 for the park and is accepting in-kind contributions

But the county won’t be a donor.

Allen Brown, chairman of the Recreation and Parks Commission, wrote to Debbie Stam, director of community development, on May 28, stating POS funding was reviewed and the skate park would not be a recipient.

He said more requests were made than funds were available and suggested Stam apply for Community Parks and Playground funding.

Replying, Stam said refusal of funding “came as a great shock to me.”

She wrote that on May 12, she was told the recreation commission would be making the POS funding decisions at the June  23 meeting.

She learned the Wicomico Recreation & Parks Commission serves as an advisory board to the department, and meetings are open.

“I considered this to be very good news, as it meant that all of those individuals who have strongly supported the creation of a skate park in Salisbury for the last eight years would have the opportunity to show the committee members just how much this facility means to them, and why the county should support this endeavor.

“Now I find out that the POS funding decision has been made a month early, without any opportunity for public input whatsoever,” Stam wrote.

She added it appeared the date for the decision making session was “changed specifically to prevent any public input.”

“I am shocked and dismayed that the Wicomico Recreation & Parks Commission would take this unprecedented step to silence the supporters of this project, and I would like to know how and why this happened,” Stam wrote.

She reminded county officials that a skate park was originally the idea of the county. In fiscal year 2007, Wicomico County Recreation, Parks and Tourism had five community forums to determine recreational needs. A skate park was repeatedly requested.

She said the county has now denied funding for the skate park seven times.

Ireton said disagreement about skate park funding fueled the disagreement between Culver and him.

On Monday, the men wrote conflicting news releases.

Ireton’s came first, before noon, stating the county had withdrawn its request for the city to donate 35 acres of forest at the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex. The county had wanted to build ball fields there, Ireton said, but officials withdrew after public outcry about saving the forest, and not disturbing the paleochannel, an underground water source, in that area.

Ireton also said a July 29 public hearing on the matter had been canceled.

A few hours later, Culver issued a statement calling Ireton’s statement “not true.”

The county remains “fully prepared to continue this collaborative effort with the city under the original conditions put forward by the Salisbury City Council,” Culver’s release stated.

Culver couldn’t be reached for comment, but Sharon Morris, assistant director of administration for the county, said county officials are indeed interested in continuing with the project. The county received  $1 million from the state to build the ball fields and they will improve quality of life for residents, she said.

Ireton, though, said Wayne Strausburg, county executive, in a phone call to Tom Stevenson, city administrator, said the county would no longer pursue the land. Ireton also said he heard Culver tell Stevenson, in the hallway of the Government of Office Building, the same.

“I have the transcript for the call from Strausburg to Stevenson on July 8 saying the county is no longer interested in this property,” the mayor said.

He released this transcript of a phone call that included this excerpt:

“Hey Tom, this is Wayne Strausburg … If the mayor is going to blackmail us with Henry Parker, tell him he can keep Henry Parker, we have other alternatives, and frankly we’re not going to engage the city any further until we have a new mayor. If you want to talk to me about this, I’ll have my phone with me all evening, but we’re pretty much fed up with the mayor’s antics.”

Ireton said the reference to blackmailing was about the city being disappointed that skate park funding would not be forthcoming, and referred to the city retaliating by refusing acreage for new ball fields.

Culver said the county pledged $450,000 from its tourism fund and “preliminary engineering has been completed wherein the county has exceeded state requirements for storm water management, forest conservation, paleochannel protection and other environmental matters.”

He said the United States Specialty Sport Association, known as the USSSA, world series will  begin here this week. The Parker athletic complex will be the headquarters.

Culver said it will boost the local economy by an estimated $20 million, from spending at restaurants and hotels, by buying gasoline and for entertainment.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.
Facebook Comment