Commissioner Mary Anne Butters envisions a park where Wayne County residents can drive off-road vehicles, participate in water sports, become physically fit and learn firearm safety.

She wants the county to assess how to develop such a place, hoping it would promote spending time outdoors and also curb violence. Butters suggests the county invest $35,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act dollars for a needs assessment.

“We want you to improve your health, your fitness, your knowledge of weapons,” Butters said during the July 3 commissioners meeting. “We want this to help reduce violence, especially among men. 

“Violence among young men has become such a great issue in our culture, and if government doesn’t address it, who will? By ending curiosity about violence, I think we could begin to teach self-respect, and I think we can address this issue through recreation, training and knowledge.”

Commissioners are discussing ways to spend remaining ARPA money. The county has more than $450,000 in ARPA money that needs to be under contract by the end of the year. There’s also about a million dollars in a fund designated for projects agreed upon by commissioners and Wayne County Council members. That money replaces ARPA money that’s been spent on more traditional general fund expenditures. Commissioner Jeff Plasterer had, during the June 26 meeting, advanced several spending ideas that he also presented to council July 3.

Those ideas included providing additional funds to cover budgeting shortfalls in projects such as the First Bank Kuhlman Center roof, ceiling and lighting replacement; the courthouse/annex complex hardscape and landscape renovations; and the emergency communications tower and radios. Other ideas included a request to purchase firearms and drones for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and providing state-required signage for five playgrounds improved through the CreatINg Places program.

Butters wants more community-based projects for the remaining money, including the park as a public/private partnership.

“I am not interested in Wayne County owning a high-liability county park,” Butters said, leading Plasterer to reply, “Nor am I.”

While the park could improve health and fitness, Butters wants to address violence by providing a place where weapons can be fired.

“I think one of our growing concerns is the violence that America is experiencing and Wayne County is no exception to that,” Butters said. “The experience that young people are having virtually — in the palms of their hands, on their computers and tablets — I think has removed the reality of just how deadly violence can become so quickly.”

Butters provided two other spending suggestions: $500,000 for animal welfare and $50,000 for a winter warming shelter. The county, through the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program, funded a consultant’s animal welfare assessment, but no money has yet been identified to take action.

The $500,000 could be complemented with additional funding sources to make strides in local animal welfare, which was a common concern expressed by residents attending a HELP public-input session at Kuhlman Center.

“It still has great community support and value, because we do have animal issues that have not properly been addressed,” Butters said.

An emergency warming center functioned last winter at Oak Park Pentecostals on Chester Boulevard, but Butters said the sheltering was “spotty.” The money would support such a center.

“Certainly, if we’re going to care for homeless animals, I think we should certainly give consideration for those in great jeopardy during our cold winter months,” Butters said.

Plasterer said Butters’ funding ideas would be considered by commissioners and presented to council.

“Remember that all of these ultimately will have to be compared one against the other and be prioritized,” he said.

Share this:

A version of this article appeared in the July 10 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.