MetroParks using survey to build 10-year master plan

Five Rivers MetroParks expects to have the plan completed by early April.

Five Rivers MetroParks released the results of a survey this week it is using to help develop a 10-year master plan for the system.

Top findings from the community needs assessment show residents would pay higher property taxes to fund the parks, including additional programs, and that they are satisfied or very satisfied with the value they get from MetroParks.

The results were shared during public meetings held Monday and Tuesday.

MetroParks expects to finalize the master plan in late March or early April.

Three in four households indicated they would accept higher taxes to fund additional programs, conservation efforts and the development of parks, facilities and programs they deem important.

"So you can see there is support for some level of increase to support what people's visions are for the MetroParks," said Leon Younger, a consultant who is assisting the MetroParks in developing its plan.

The ETC Institute, based in Olathe, Kan., conducted a survey for Five Rivers MetroParks in the summer of 2015.

About 8,000 surveys were mailed to a random sample of households in the county. Residents could mail back completed surveys or answer questions online or over the phone. About 812 households completed surveys.

About 79 percent of households said they would vote in favor of renewing MetroParks primary funding source, a 10-year levy that voters approved in 2009. Ten percent answered they might vote in favor of the levy. Nine percent of respondents said they were not sure how they would vote on a renewal measure. Three percent said they would vote against a levy renewal.

The park district also receives some funding from the state, grants, donations, sponsorships and program and facility fees and charges.

The MetroParks is working to develop a systems master plan for the next 10 years that addresses land, facilities, programs, operations and financial needs and sustainability, said Younger, president of Pros Consulting, located in Indianapolis.

The survey helped identify system utilization trends, user profiles, community expectations and priorities, programming and maintenance-management needs and other useful information, Younger said.

According to the survey, about 90 percent of households said they had visited one or more of the MetroParks’ green areas, trails or facilities in the previous 12 months. The MetroParks had about 3.3 million visitors last year.

On average, only about three-fourths of Americans visit their local parks and trails, Younger said.

“In this community, people are visiting at a much higher rate,” he said.

Of the people who used the parks and trails, about 47 percent rated their condition as excellent and another 48 percent scored them as good.

Residents were most likely to identify nature and hiking trails as the most important MetroParks amenities.

Other top ranking features and offerings were paved biking trails, fresh food markets, picnic areas and shelters and playgrounds.

The survey also asked residents the maximum amount of additional money they would be willing to spend to support, expand and develop the parks, other facilities and programming.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said they would not support any tax increases.

However, the same share of residents said they would be willing to pay up to $50 more per year.

About 18 percent of respondents supported an increase up to $10 per year; 15 percent supported up to $20; 11 percent supported up to $30; and 4 percent supported up to $40.

The MetroParks’ 1.8-mill levy, at a 95 percent collection rate, produced $17.3 million in revenue in 2010. But as property values slumped, revenues declined.

The levy, at the same collection rate, generated about $15.4 million in revenue in 2015, according to auditor’s estimates.

The levy costs the standard owner of a $100,000 home $55.13 annually.

The master plan will be the road map for how the park district intends to provide the facilities and programming most important to the community, said Becky Benná, executive director of the Five Rivers MetroParks.

“This has been a very community-driven, 1o-year plan,” she said.

Community members have sent a clear message that they want MetroParks to take care of what it already owns, she said.

The public feedback also indicated residents want MetroParks to preserve land for environmental reasons; protect fish and wildlife habitats; create health and wellness opportunities; enhance the connections between the parks and the urban core; link the inner ring of community parks; and make the park district a driver of economic development.

One of the other priorities is for the MetroParks to develop a financially sustainable system to achieve its vision, Benná said.

Benná said it is too early in the planning process to predict what funding decisions will come from the master plan.

“We are making sure that we still continue to provide the quality services our community wants and making sure we understand what that is with the resources we have,” she said.

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