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Our public parks shouldn’t be closed for private events: Editorial

Posted 4/17/19

We don’t object to the borough of Middletown bringing in money from the use of our parks.

After all, residents and nonresidents can rent out parts of Hoffer Park right now. According to the …

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Our public parks shouldn’t be closed for private events: Editorial

Posted

We don’t object to the borough of Middletown bringing in money from the use of our parks.

After all, residents and nonresidents can rent out parts of Hoffer Park right now. According to the borough’s website, Shelter No. 1, near the entrance to the park, costs $50 for residents and $100 for nonresidents. Shelter No. 2, near the location of Kids Kastle, is $25 for residents and $50 for nonresidents. The main pavilion at the center of the park, which includes a stove, sink and refrigerator, is $75 for borough residents and $150 for nonresidents.

But what is being bandied about now by Middletown Borough Council — allowing groups to rent all of Hoffer Park and exclude the public — is quite a different thing, and something we most definitely oppose.

According to discussions at the April 2 council meeting, Schneider Electric wanted to use the park — the entire park — for an employee picnic Aug. 17. This would be no tiny get-together. As many as 400 employees could be invited, although the most who have attended in past years at other locations is about 150. Schneider planned to have a “bouncy” house, a petting zoo, a live band, dunk tanks and food vendors.

However, as discussed at the council meeting, the park would have had to remain open to the public during the event. After all, it is a public park.

That’s what led council to reject Schneider’s request, although future discussion was promised on setting a policy that might allow groups to rent the park and exclude the public.

Let’s be clear — we oppose closing Hoffer Park or any of the other six parks in Middletown to the public for rental by groups.

These are our parks. They should not be looked at as a money-making asset. Our taxes pay for their upkeep.

Council President Angela Lloyd raised a thoughtful point: “If they (the employees) are on the basketball court and a bunch of kids come down and want to play, is there going to be an issue — ‘We reserved the park for the day, you can’t play basketball,’” Lloyd said during the council meeting.

If the council wants to pursue having a policy that allows the borough to rent out the park for bigger events, we support setting some guidelines as long as it does not mean closing the park to the public.

The borough would have to be very clear when groups want to use Hoffer that the park would not be closed to the public. We understand that this could lessen how attractive it would be to host such events, but we don’t feel it is up for negotiation. If these groups wanted to bring in bouncy houses or a petting zoo, it would be up to them to ensure that only those who are part of their group take part in using them.

We don’t want a resident to bring their children or grandchildren down to Hoffer Park on a sunny Saturday afternoon just to see a “Closed” sign hanging at the entrance.

And how would this “Closed” policy be enforced. Would there literally be guards standing watch and keeping people out of what should be a park open to everyone? Would off-duty police be on hand? We shudder to think what that would look like.

Council member Ian Reddinger, who supported the rental to Schneider, said such events would set a good precedent.

“Come to Middletown, have fun, enjoy, bring your family, enjoy the businesses that are around here — that’s a good precedent to set and I hope we do set that precedent,” he said.

That’s all well and good, but it should not be done to the disadvantage of the residents who already pay for it.

Keep our public parks open to the public. We fear changing that policy would do more harm than good.

Our parks were established for the pleasure and use of Middletown residents, not as a money-making venture.