NEW MADRID - When it comes to insurance costs for the city, it isn't child's play.
Parents and even children attended Monday evening's New Madrid City Council questioning the removal of play equipment from the city parks and other concerns rumored throughout the community recently. Mayor Mark Baker began the discussion announcing: "Probably everything you've heard is not true."
What is true, Baker continued, is the city was facing an increase in its insurance rates of $80,000. Rather than pay the higher costs, a new insurance company was sought with the Missouri Intergovernmental Risk Management Association being the sole bidder. Their recent risk control survey, completed in March, prompted recent actions by the city, including taking out the park equipment.
Thumbing through the pages of the MIRMA letter, Baker noted some play equipment did not meet current safety guidelines and costs to bring them into compliance were prohibitive so the company simply recommended removal. These included the monkey bars in the City Park and at the Hunter-Dawson Park the composite play structure, the four-way tire swing and the walking bridge and slide unit. Problems ranged from strangulation hazards to dangers of head entrapment to simply being too tall.
On other park equipment, the company noted unsafe conditions, which city officials indicated could be repaired. These included properly closing "S" hooks on swing sets, installing protective surfacing material, repairing broken pieces and retrofitting handgrips.
With seven parks in New Madrid, MIRMA conducted a safety assessment on only two initially, Baker said.
Another recommendation from the new insurer is to require organized groups using public facilities to present a certificate of insurance with at least $1 million single event and $3 million aggregate of general liability insurance. A member of the audience noted this has put a burden on the town's Little League programs, which for the most part simply break even and cannot afford the higher costs this would require.
"There is no way the leagues can survive with these (insurance) rates," he stated adding in just the past two years the costs to run the programs have increased to $11,000 from $5,000.
"This is not something we have decided out of the blue," responded Baker. "This is the world we live in. Everyone has the same problem at home with insurance."
The mayor announced a new Park Board is being appointed to oversee the changes. Board members, who met for the first time just prior to the council meeting, are: Allison Causey, chairman, Carrie Silman, co-chair, Nichole Tollison, secretary, Kim Hall and Richard St. Mary III along with councilmen Gary Cowan and Glen Medlin. One vacancy is yet to be filled on the board.
"That board is going to have a lot to say about what goes on in the parks," assured Baker.
While nothing was budgeted this year for park equipment, the Board has approximately $31,000 in a fund which can be used to replace items, city officials said.
Causey stated she and the other board members are currently seeking costs on equipment with efforts planned to replace equipment in the Hunter-Dawson Park first. "There is going to be new equipment it is just going to take time," she insisted.
Also she said the board will look for other funding sources including grants and coordinating fund-raising efforts for local youth programs. Causey said citizens with questions, concerns or suggestions should contact the city which will forward the information to park board members.
As the meeting came to a conclusion, the mayor again addressed the citizens.
"There is not a guy up here that doesn't want to support the kids in this town," said Baker, nodding toward the other members of the board. "You should let these guys know what the problems are and they will get it done."