As Springfield looks to trim its 2013-14 budget amid a drop in property valuations, City Council members are asking hard questions about the cost of the proposed Buffalo Park splash pad.
At a budget workshop Tuesday, council members said the cost must be capped at $285,000 in next year’s budget, despite construction bids that came in last spring as high as $350,000.
“This can’t be an open checkbook project,” Councilman Chad Nolte said.
The council rejected the bids in April after they came in higher than the $280,000 the city anticipated spending for the 1,600-square-foot water playground.
Construction was supposed to begin in the spring, with the splash pad finished by summer.
But the timeline was pushed back as council members considered rebidding the project or negotiating a better price with low bidder Dostal Construction Co.
The city plans to fund the splash pad entirely with sales tax revenue. Keno proceeds could be used for additional costs, like tables and a shade structure.
The city originally wanted to build a swimming pool, but decided on the less expensive splash pad idea. The popular attractions — there are several in Papillion and Omaha — generally feature water spraying up out of the ground and streaming down from buckets.
Councilman Randy Fleming questioned whether the city really needed a splash pad at a time when other projects were being cut or delayed, including plans to build a public works storage space.
“This is going to be used maybe 90 days out of the year, compared to other necessities,” he said.
Others said residents were clamoring for more recreation activities for children.
“People really do want it,” council President Dan Craney said. “I think it’s an investment for property values and I think it looks good when you come into town — ‘Ooh, a splash park.’ ”
“It does look good for economic development,” said Kathleen Gottsch, city clerk-treasurer.
Council members agreed to keep funding for the splash pad in the budget but said construction and engineering costs could not exceed $285,000.
If the bids come in high again, the council can reject them and push the project back again, Mayor Mike Dill said.
“Just because you budget it doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” he said.
Springfield’s budget and tax levy are not final, but Dill said the city should be able to keep its tax rate at 84.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. The budget will be voted on at the Sept. 17 meeting.