OTTUMWA – Ottumwa Town Council approved matching funding for new tennis courts during Tuesday’s meeting at Town Hall.
Instead of contributing $750,000 to match what the Ottumwa Community School District approved earlier this month, the board changed the wording of its original motion, declaring a contribution “up to” that amount.
The city’s source of funding would come from either a surety bond for a capital improvement project or US bailout money. The motion passed 4-1, with council member Doug McAntire opposing it, citing the need to see what the budget looks like after meetings with city officials.
Councilman Marc Roe called for the amendment and didn’t want to force the city to make another donation if the proposed $2.2 million project for a dozen tennis courts ends up costing more; it also gave the city some leeway if the project falls short of the proposed amount.
“I support that idea, but I wouldn’t be in favor of supporting something where we have to come back a month later with another $100,000 or even $50,000, ask.”
There is still much to be determined about the tennis courts, but it is expected that 12 will be built to replace the deteriorating Dan Staggs courts in Greater Ottumwa Park. The courts are essentially a partnership between the city, the school district, and the Friends of Ottumwa Parks.
The Friends of Ottumwa Parks plan to raise funds from the cost of the proposed project.
Council member Cara Galloway wondered who would be in charge of organizing the tournaments.
“The idea with one of these grants through the United States Tennis Association is that we have to do tournaments, and we have to do two adult leagues to get that $100,000,” said Mark Gardner of Friends of Ottumwa’s Park. “So it’s going to happen.
“My daughter, one of her part-time gigs is with the USTA, and she’s waiting to come here and show people how to run tournaments, do all the computer work and stuff.”
It remains to be seen where the courts will be built, but the city is awaiting design plans and recommendations for park renovations. Under the overall 2040 plan, the courts would be built in Sycamore Park.
McAntire questioned why the tennis courts were not part of the proposed indoor facility of Ottumwa SportsPlex, then explained his reasoning for opposing the motion.
“As a board, we didn’t sit down and discuss where the $750,000 came from,” he said. “And four of us are new to the board, and we don’t understand the budget yet. I think that’s something we should table for a few more weeks so we have a better idea.”
The subject then turned to the general state of the parks. Roe lamented that the city struggles to stick to all the plans it created for the parks and that there aren’t enough employees to help maintain them.
“I think we need to have a larger conversation if we’re going to continue to fragment these projects. We’re going to have to get into the conversation about taking our parks seriously,” he said. “I feel sorry for (Parks Manager) Gene (Rathje) because he and his people are tasked with doing more and more with less and less every day.
“There are so many volunteers doing things that are ultimately the responsibility of the city,” he said. “We either have to invest in parks or leave because we don’t have staff. But if we’re going to spend money on a parks plan, we have to start paying attention to it.”
In other cases:
• Council authorized the fire department to apply for a SAFER grant that would allow the town to hire three firefighters. These would be in addition to the three already approved by the city and bring the department back to full strength after nearly two years since the cut of six firefighters. However, if granted, the grant would only pay salaries and benefits for three years, and the city would have to review whether to keep these firefighters permanently.
• The city has set February 1 as the public hearing date for the proposed maximum property tax amount of certain levies as part of this year’s budget cycle.