By Jessica Mathews /

Discussions about managing the park and boat launch will be taking place between the City of Howell and the Howell Area Parks & Recreation Authority over the next couple of weeks.

The City contracts with the Authority to run Scofield Park and the Thompson Lake boat launch for around $45,000. The Authority is responsible for manning the guard booth and handles pavilion rentals, which goes on year-round. It also manages the distribution of annual park passes for City residents and other participating municipalities that include Marion, Howell, Oceola, and Genoa Townships.

The City is facing significant budget challenges and has been looking at different ways to save money. Following earlier budget work sessions, Council gave City Manager Paul DeBuff direction to look into having the City take over management duties in-house for a rough savings of around $25,000. It costs the City around $160,000 for maintenance of assets such as the beach, boat launch, pavilions mowing, and the park in general.

With the summer lake season approaching, a memo stated that staff felt changing the direction of management at this point would be a challenge but it was still important to try and defray costs to the City. Under a proposal presented at Monday night’s virtual Council meeting, staff recommended continuing to contract with HAPRA for the time being. Currently, Authority members get two free season passes per household.

Staff has proposed charging residents outside of the City and Oceola Township for passes, with the rationale being the lake is located in both communities and the City has a longstanding but dated agreement with Oceola about the boat launch. Participating townships would then be given an option to pay a one-fifth portion of the City’s costs, roughly $32,000 each. By doing so, that would “buy-out” their residents to receive one free pass per household. Additional passes cost $40 each.

Mayor Nick Proctor commented that it’s a “can of worms” but the City has the responsibility of maintaining the beach, which is very costly, while also subsidizing a service for other communities out of the general fund.

Authority Board Chair Sean Dunleavy implored the City to reconsider the decision and not go to such an extreme and try to find some middle ground. He said he understood budget constraints but would hope there could maybe be a stepped approach with regard to passes – stressing it could tip the scale on some of their other member townships participating in the Authority at all.

Dunleavy told Council what he’s confounded with is that they haven’t been able to come together to talk about things. He questioned why not bring in HAPRA to look at ways and perhaps offer more services or brainstorm ways to help. Dunleavy said he hates to be in this spot in March and it’s a hard pill to swallow, noting other members are concerned. If he had to choose, Dunleavy told DeBuff he would keep everyone with passes and step away from the agreement. He said it would make him feel better to know they are supporting their fellow township participants as everyone is in this together. Dunleavy said the $45,000 would be easier to swallow as any profit margins from the agreement are very slim and they’re really not making any money – it’s more about visibility.

A motion was approved to postpone action on the topic to the next meeting. It was decided that a lot of details needed to be worked out and City staff and HAPRA officials will be meeting over the next couple of weeks to bring something concrete forward.