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One more puzzle piece for Coulee River Trails

City Council greenlights planning funding

The City of Prescott is going all-in to help with the development of the Coulee River Trails master plan.

The city council voted unanimously last Monday night to allocate $28,084 in its Freedom Park fund to reimburse the Freedom Park Board for the time Executive Director Israel Haas is spending on planning the project. It also reviewed the allocation of $50,000 that’s in this year’s budget for trails, which will go to putting together the Coulee River Trails Master Plan.

The Coulee River Trails project vision is to “conserve the unique habitat and history of the confluence region, providing a place for recreation and exploration.

“The CRT project team would like to create a greenway and trail system that would preserve this special natural space for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy as the city expands to the south and east. The nature preserve and trail system could contain 14-plus miles of natural surface trails… The project has the potential of shaping the future development of the city and surrounding municipalities as well as protecting critical habitat in an ecological hub.”

The magnitude of the proposed trail project and the impact it could have on the Prescott community wasn’t lost on council members.

“We’re on the cusp of doing something really good for all the people actually living in Prescott and in the townships around Prescott,” Alderperson Thomas Oss said. “This would be good for everybody who lives here so I strongly support it.”

The trail’s master plan is slated for completion by April 2022 and calls for tying together a trail system through city land, private developments and Prescott School District properties.

Vice Chair of the Friends of Freedom Park Jeffery A. Ruehle asked first for the allocation of funds in the city budget from previous years to be used to pay 20 percent of the salary of Haas through the planning process.

“This is in regard to helping compensate the Friends of Freedom Park for all the time Israel is putting in last year and this year in the planning process,” he said. “It’s been a good process. There’s a lot of progress being made.”

Explained Alderperson Bailey Ruona, who chairs the council Parks and Public Property Committee and sits on the Coulee River Trail Steering Committee, “Israel has been using some substantial time to help the city and this group come together and organize this. We’re trying to reimburse them for some of his time in helping with the planning and getting all these people together.”

The money is in what Deputy Clerk/Treasurer Beth Lansing termed as the Freedom park “savings account” in the city budget. The city owns Freedom and is responsible for building maintenance matters. This money was allocated years ago and has never been spent.

Lansing explained the money could be allocated by the council for Freedom Park use.

She suggested writing language in a contract that the funds were used for the director’s salary on the trails project.

Mayor David Hovel supported the project but questioned the funding timing.

“My one thought is it would have been nice to have this request before they had the need for these dollars,” he said.

“This is something we really want done,” said Alderperson Maureen Otwell. I don’t think we should not do this because they didn’t do it in a bureaucratic procedural way. I don’t think they anticipated this. I look at it as funds they didn’t use in previous years. It’s there to be used by Freedom Park. I’d be comfortable with a contract that it goes to this project and it may be used for salary.”

Ruehle said Haas has been spending more than a day a week on the trail project since last Sept. 1. This money would be used to pay for 700 hours of his time through April 2022.

“That’s when the master plan we’re hoping will be released,” Ruehle said. “It’s really a compensation to Freedom Park to allow Israel to spend time to work on a project that isn’t directly tied to Freedom Park.”

Questions were raised on possibly not earmarking all the funds but holding some back in case something else arises at Freedom Park.

“Let’s just say something else comes up that we might need some of that $28,000 for. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Alderperson Rob Daugherty. “I’m not trying to be the ‘cheapo’ here. We spend all our money and then things come up. How are we going to pay for that?”

It was explained that the park also gets an annual maintenance budget, and that this money was left over from previous years.

“They came in under budget and didn’t use the funds,” said Hovel. “The city would like to have more trails. We’d like to get more trail systems in there.”

The second request of the money the city budgeted last year will be used for developing the master plan. Ruehle’s request stated, “mapping, land appraisals, printing, etc.” Surveys will be conducted, and a website will be built.

Money not spent in 2021 will be carried over to 2022.

“I would expect that we’ll go through maybe 50 percent this year and roll some of it over,” said Ruona.

Oss asked if the council would vote on individual expenses as they come up.

“No,” replied Brand. “You’ll see that on the payment report.”

“As funds are spent, invoices are sent to the city, and we pay it out of that trails fund,” said Lansing.

No council vote was necessary since the money was already budgeted.

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