Gonzales council criticized for pulling funds from kids’ park

While the Gonzales City Council has balked at providing its full infrastructure commitment to Kidz Kove Discovery Park, the Ascension Parish Council has fulfilled its pledge.

The Parish Council on Thursday approved a resolution providing $25,000 to Project Kidz Kove, the nonprofit group raising funds for the park that will serve children with special needs. The council previously had given the group $25,000 and had committed a total of $50,000.

The city of Gonzales had committed to providing up to $200,000 in infrastructure work at the park, which will be located near the Gonzales Police Department at Cornerview Street and Francois Avenue.

However, the City Council recently pulled $80,000 out of its capital projects budget that originally was intended for Kidz Kove Discovery Park.

After a fundraiser last month and the Parish Council’s latest pledge, Project Kidz Kove has raised approximately $755,000 toward the park, but was shy about $200,000 of the needed funds. The city previously had agreed to provide those funds in labor and infrastructure during construction.

The City Council’s decision on Monday to pull back the $80,000 left many of the volunteers who have spent several years working to raise funds for the park angry and saying they felt lied-to by city officials and fearful that the long-awaited park would see further delays.

Stacey Bumpus, president of Project Kidz Kove, said after the City Council acted that she appreciated the efforts of a minority of council members to support her organization’s efforts, but she felt betrayed by a majority of the council.

“It’s wrong,” she said of the City Council’s decision to withhold funding from the park project. “It might not be illegal, but it’s highly unethical.”

Several parish councilmen, including Council Chairman Chris Loar, said the decision to pass the resolution on Thursday was made in part to put pressure on city officials not to back down on their Kidz Kove pledge.

“They need to take care of their commitment here,” Councilman Dempsey Lambert said.

“Kidz Kove is a fine example of what this community does well,” Councilman Kent Schexnaydre added.

Councilman Bryan Melancon, meanwhile, applauded the Kidz Kove volunteers for “working their tail off” to raise more than $750,000 for the park, which is being built on city property and will be donated to and maintained by the city.

“That group has raised more private funding (than any other),” Melancon said. “We do have groups who come before us and go before the city who don’t try to raise money and just want a handout. That is not this group.”

Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said city officials are working to reach a compromise and place the $80,000 back into the capital outlay budget prior to its final adoption on May 28.

“First of all, I still maintain that we should’ve passed the damn thing when had the $200,000 in it,” Arceneaux said. “We could have done it. Let me make that clear. I thought it was a mistake what was done.”

Instead, city officials now are looking at moving money that had been set aside for a dog park, which Arceneaux said has been “put on the backburner,” and making those funds available for Kidz Kove Discovery Park.

“I think it’s gonna happen,” the mayor said. “Naturally, Kidz Kove is more of a priority than the dog park.”