By SCOTT JACKSON
City councillors were divided on a proposal to renovate South Quincy’s Kincaide Park, with some saying it would reinvigorate a neglected neighborhood while others balked at the $6.3 million price tag for the project.
The council’s finance committee voted 5-3 on Tuesday to give a positive recommendation to Mayor Thomas Koch’s request to borrow $5.3 million to cover outstanding costs of the project The full council did not vote on the measure, however, to give the mayor time to review alternative ways to pay for the project.
Plans for the park – located on Water Street between the Lincoln-Hancock and Sterling schools – include a FIFA-regulation soccer pitch that could be utilized for other sports as well, a splash pad, basketball courts, bocce courts, a spring track, a trail for walking and running, new play and exercise equipment and ropes course. New lighting and stormwater systems would also be installed, along with a net of 96 new trees.
A $27 million park improvement bond approved by the council in 2017 set aside $1 million for Kincaide Park; the bond will be paid for with hotel tax receipts, which Quincy collects when guests stay overnight in a hotel or motel in the city.
Based on community feedback, Koch proposed bigger changes for the field earlier this year, and proposed paying for them with the $5.3 million bond the council is now considering, which would be paid out of the general fund.
Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci said the 5.2-acre park is underutilized, with existing facilities that are often empty. The proposal before the council, he said, would draw in people from all walks of life.
“It’s an incredibly underutilized area in the city…this really just reimagines it in an enormous way that brings people in from the community – all sorts of people from the community,” Palmucci said. “It’s very impressive.”
Councillor Noel DiBona said he understood the need to improve Kincaide Park, but was concerned about how much the city would borrow in the near future to pay for other capital improvements, including new seawalls and a public safety headquarters. DiBona proposed cutting $4 million from the bond request, leaving $2.3 million to renovate Kincaide between the bond under consideration and the one already approved.
“I feel that in a time like this we have to be a little bit more on the conservative side when it comes to appropriating funding, especially when it comes to bonding,” he said.
In response to those concerns, Chris Walker, Koch’s chief of staff, said the city has applied for six grants to pay for part of the project’s cost and is eying additional ones as well. He was optimistic, but not certain, the city would receive a grant of up to $1.2 million from the state for the project; the other grants would be from private foundations. Walker said the grants could pay for between 25 and 50 percent of the project cost.
Councillors rejected the proposed cut in a 5-3 vote, with Ian Cain and Brad Croall joining DiBona in favor of it. William Harris, Kirsten Hughes, Anne Mahoney and David McCarthy joined Palmucci in voting against the cut. Nina Liang was absent from the meeting.
The 5-3 vote to pass the item out of committee would be along the same lines.
Mahoney said the park project could help improve the surrounding neighborhood as a whole.
“You could actually see growth from more than just a park, because you would be reinvigorating, reimagining and reinventing an area that has been left to kind of fall in on top of itself,” she said. “There are families over there that are trying to really reinvent this area, but they need help and this is how you do it.”
McCarthy said the neighborhood has been neglected over the years, with projects in other parts of the city given higher priority.
“It know it’s a lot of money, but that area is way overdue,” he said.
Harris said he would support the project because it has the backing of Palmucci, the neighborhood’s ward councillor.
“I believe in supporting the ward councillors in their areas because they’ve supported me,” he said.
Cain, the finance committee chairman, said the city needs to do a better job of prioritizing projects.
“You can’t just keeping going on using daddy’s credit card. That’s just not the way it goes,” Cain said. “Sometimes you actually have to sit back and say, ‘this is more important than that, people need this more than that.’ Nobody is doing that.”
Croall, the council president, asked if the mayor would be open to using other sources of funding to pay for the project. Croall suggested the city could use the $4.7 million it has in state-certified free cash, money from the Community Preservation Committee, or $2 million he said is now available in hotel tax receipts.
“There is some funding in play that lies outside the taxpayers’ pocketbook,” Croall said.
Walker said he would be willing to look into using money from those sources between Tuesday’s meeting and the council’s next session on Nov. 26.
“I would obviously be happy to spend the next two weeks working with Councillor Palmucci, working with our team, to see what potential is there for other funding sources in addition to what we have in front of us today,” Walker said.
Cain then asked Palmucci if he would amenable to tabling the discussion until Nov. 26. Palmucci said he wanted the item voted out of committee but could wait until the next meeting for a final vote on the matter.
“My vote wouldn’t change based on where the money comes from,” Palmucci said. “I’m on board with what folks are saying, but I support it either way.”
Councillors did approve one amendment, offered by Palmucci, before voting the bond order out of committee. The amendment states any other funding source the city receives for the project would be deducted from the total amount borrowed against the general fund.
That amendment was approved in a 7-1 vote, with Croall opposed.