Recently, an investment group expressed interest in buying Oakdale Park in Glen Rose, putting the City Council in a position to make some big decisions about the park’s future. The Council was assured that the investment group’s intentions are to continue operating the park in much the same manner as it is now operated, with the exception that additional investments in infrastructure would likely be made.
The Council seemed pleased to learn of those intentions as the City originally purchased the park in 2009 to ensure that visitors and area residents would be able to continue to enjoy the swimming pool and all of the park’s other amenities. There had been fears that in the wrong hands, the land on which the Park is located might have been converted to another purpose.
Oakdale’s being listed in the National Register of Historic Places provides a measure of protection concerning its appearance. And, it is possible that deed restrictions or zoning may be used to prevent major changes to the Oakdale traditions that generations of residents and guests have come to enjoy.
In 2007, the city took the first step toward purchasing Oakdale when voters created the Glen Rose Economic Development Corporation by approving a ½ percent EDC sales tax. Counting on EDC revenue, the city issued about $3 million in bonds for purchasing the park and some undeveloped property adjacent to the park, renovating the park, and constructing the riverwalk.
The debt won’t be paid off until 2034. The annual payments of about $206,000 consume the majority of the EDC revenues.
In recent years the city has been using money from the General Fund, or sales and property tax dollars, to make improvements to the park. The city has also been subsidizing the cost of operating the park, because the revenue it brings in hasn’t been enough to cover costs. With debt and subsidies, last year taxpayers paid about a quarter of a million dollars to keep Oakdale going. That’s an improvement, because the year before they paid almost a half a million dollars to do so.
Oakdale Park isn’t a traditional municipal park. Beginning in 1925, it was operated as a private campground for some 84 years before being purchased by the city. The park continues to be operated in much the same way it was during all those years. When the city obtained a permit to operate a propane filling station at the park, staff discovered that no other city had such a permit. As a rule, Good Sam, a national RV club, doesn’t allow municipal parks to become members of their network. Due to Oakdale’s unusual nature, an exception was made. Not long ago, the City Council decided not to pursue a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Grant to help fund improvements to the park. A shift in sentiment seemed to occur when it was mentioned that, if such a grant were accepted, Oakdale Park would have to be operated as a public park in perpetuity; otherwise, the grant funds would have to be paid back to the state.
It’s difficult for a municipality to operate something more akin to a private business than a municipal service. Because of state law, when it comes to spending and decision making, municipalities march to the beat of a different drum.
Even the sale of Oakdale Park, should the City Council decide to pursue that option, would have to be conducted differently than what would be required if it were being sold by a private entity.
First, the Council would have to determine whether Oakdale should be considered an RV campground or a city park. If it is determined to be a city park, the City Council would have to obtain authorization to sell the property from voters at a special election. Regardless of how the park is classified, the Council would have to sell it through either a public auction or sealed bids.
The city still owes about $2.5 million in tax exempt debt on the bonds that were issued when the park was purchased, so if the park is sold to private investors, that debt would have to be
paid off before anything else is done with the proceeds from the sale.
What do you think? With all the infrastructure improvements that have been made, has Oakdale Park’s future as an RV park and campground been secured? Should taxpayer funds continue to be used to subsidize the City’s ownership and operation of Oakdale Park, or is it time to entrust Oakdale’s future with private investors?
Editor's note: Michael Leamons is the city administrator for the city of Glen Rose.