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Is the time right for park projects?

Deciding whether to take a referendum to voters is always a big decision. In the case of a referendum for parks and recreation facilities, the decision over the last decade or so has not been favorable.

Two or three times in the last decade the Farmington City Council has considered a referendum for different recreation amenities. Every time, the parks and recreation commission developed a proposal, they've shown need and interest. But when it got down to whether to ask voters for support, council members have shied away from the idea.

In 2006, the commission asked council members to consider a community center referendum. The council considered it, but plans to build a new city hall and a city garage were already in motion. Council members postponed a decision, telling the commission to bring it back in 2008.

Two years later, though, the housing market had turned and the city council thought the timing was bad to ask voters to support a referendum. They delayed the decision another two years.

So here they are, a year-old city council, pressed with the same request of the past. Of the $10.7 million in proposed park projects, most items have come before the city council in the past.

What's included?

These projects include all kinds of facilities and park improvements meant to round out the recreation offerings in Farmington. There's a proposed aquatic facility with waterslides, lap lanes, a water sprayground and more. There are improvements to the adult athletic fields, tennis courts, shelters and playground equipment at Rambling River Park.

Then there are plans for a new community park in the central part of the city. That park would that include a youth baseball complex as well as tennis courts, basketball courts, outdoor skating rinks and a warming house. It would also include a dome facility with a full-size indoor soccer field.

In addition, the referendum would include money to purchase additional land in the mid-section of town where a future adult softball complex was once proposed.

Is it time?

With the economy seemingly taking a turn for the better and a gradual increase in building permits in Farmington the timing might be better for a referendum. But is 2010 the year for a parks and recreation referendum in Farmington?

It's a big question. It's already been topic of discussion during a couple of recent meetings between council and parks and recreation officials. To better make that determination, the two groups will hold a workshop Monday at Farmington City Hall.

Farmington parks and recreation director Randy Distad said the parks commission would like to see these projects move ahead, but city council members still have some questions about the timing. And, for that matter, whether or not residents are ready to see a referendum.

To gauge resident opinion, council members are considering conducting a community survey, Distad said. Most of the questions would be geared toward helping the council determine resident thoughts and feelings about a parks referendum.

If the city goes ahead with the community survey, it's no guarantee that there will be a parks referendum in the fall, Distad said.

"The idea behind the survey is to go out and see what (the residents) feel about the various projects, then if they would do the referendum," he said.

Though there has been a fair amount of discussion regarding the Schmitz-Maki Ice Arena and the concept of a future second sheet of ice in Farmington, the survey would not involve anything regarding an ice arena. That would be a separate project at another time, Distad said.

The parks and recreation commission and Farmington City Council will hold a joint workshop at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 22 at Farmington City Hall. The workshop is open to the public.