Construction of a new park in Newark could be delayed once again to offset the need for a proposed tax hike, if Mayor Jerry Clifton gets his way.
Clifton on Monday asked city administrators to present the change as an option when city council votes on the budget Nov. 1.
Officials have proposed spending $1.5 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to turn a 14-acre field across from the Newark Reservoir into Old Paper Mill Park.
The new park would provide much-needed parking in the area, which has become a regional destination due to the reservoir and Preston’s Playground, officials said. It would also include additional park amenities.
Newark has been planning the park since at least 2011, when officials developed a plan calling for a soccer field, a basketball court, a pavilion, a walking trail and 110 parking spaces. If approved, construction could begin in winter 2022, with completion set for fall 2023.
The park has already been delayed several times due to a lack of funding.
“I don’t know that there’s any rush to build that – not this year, not next year, not the year after,” Clifton said Monday. “Hopefully, someday it gets built. We should always look into expanding our parks network.”
The mayor said that even though some residents tell him the city should “cut the fluff,” he usually believes the budget is already lean. However, he sees the proposed park as something that could be delayed to save money.
Clifton’s comments came just a week after he expressed support for the tax increase and issued a pre-emptive challenge to anyone who raises concerns about it.
“People will argue about how horrible things are and you can’t afford to live in Newark anymore,” Clifton said Oct. 4. “I’ll put a stake in the ground here – if you believe that, you probably haven’t lived any other place. You darn sure haven’t gone north into Pennsylvania. I would put our services up against any other governmental agency.”
Earlier this month, City Manager Tom Coleman proposed a 5 percent tax increase, which would cost the average resident an additional $30 per year. Proposed utility fee increases would add up to another $12 per year.
The tax hike would go into effect July 1 and generate $200,000 in additional revenue for the city in 2022 and $400,000 each year after that.
In response to Clifton’s suggestion, Coleman said the city could take some of the ARPA money planned for the park and instead direct it toward two technology projects that are currently slated to be funded using city resources. That would eliminate the need for the proposed tax increase this year.
However, Coleman cautioned that the city will ultimately need more tax revenue to pay for capital projects once the ARPA funds are used up, and forgoing gradual increases will result in a larger increase in the future.
“Long-term, the rent is going to come due. So we’re delaying something that will end up having to happen,” Coleman said.
Councilman Travis McDermott also took issue with Clifton’s idea, noting that the proposed park would be in his district.
“I think it’s ironic that I was the one person that came out against the tax increase, and that’s the one project that you brought up to try to cut, just for the record,” McDermott said. “I don’t know if you would be proposing that if it was Dickey Park or some other park.”