Maquoketa City Councilman Jacob Baker wants the city to spend its tax dollars to upkeep the city’s existing parks instead of throwing money at new ones. 

Verbal exchanges became heated between Baker and other council members as he pleaded his case during Tuesday’s council meeting.

The council voted 5-1 to spend up to $12,000 for an asphalt track and possibly an asphalt infield at the new radio-control car park now under construction at Burlingame Field, just off East Quarry Street near the fairgrounds. 

Baker opposed the additional expense for the car park, which was originally estimated to cost about $3,000.

He said he walked around the other city parks. All the parks are missing mulch and the First Ward Park bathrooms are “gross,” Baker said.

“$12,000 can fix what we already have that is just being left unattended,” he said. “It just seems like the parks that we currently have are being neglected.”

Mayor Don Schwenker brought the issue before the council as an attempt to help Shane Halverson complete the RC car park tracks before winter.

Halverson proposed building an RC car park in Maquoketa, noting an increasing regional interest in the sport of guiding radio-controlled cars around tracks. Halverson volunteered to design and build tracks for the city. The council agreed to spend up to $3,000 on the project.

One track is complete. A second track would be finished but moisture is not draining from the site, which has been a longstanding problem on the city-owned property, Schwenker said.

Schwenker suggested having Seven Hills Paving of Maquoketa lay and asphalt track and infield, which he said would mitigate the drainage issues, extend the track’s usage options, and help Halverson to finish the third track. Project bids came in between $7,500 and $12,000.

“[Halverson] is taking one of the underutilized park spaces and getting a lot of usage and interest from it,” Schwenker said of the car park. “I’ve been surprised by how many people are using it.”

Councilman Kevin Kuhlman said he’s driven to the car park a few times and always sees at least 10 people there using the track.

“I’ve seen the momentum [the car park] has gained in only two months,” Kuhlman said in support of the paving project. He said the county fairgrounds may host indoor RC car events in the winter.

Seven Hills Paving could do the project in the next two weeks, otherwise it likely would wait until spring, thus delaying the tracks’ completion, Schwenker said.

However, Baker didn’t feel the same sense of urgency Schwenker did for the project. 

“[The car park] was presented to us as ‘we can plow over because nothing here is permanent.’ ... And now we’re making permanent structures,” Baker said. “It has been my experience in the very short tenure that I have been on this council that we as a council like to do things that are exciting. While improving this RC park is good, and I can even see the need behind it, being good and having a need does not automatically mean we need to do it.”

Baker listed the various new park amenities currently being discussed: the dog park, the RC car park, new equipment at Grove Street where there is none, and a new adaptive park or equipment.

“Why can’t we fix up the equipment we already have, get rid of the equipment… that is just a remnant of something we used to have, and take care of the property we already have?” he said.

“I think spending $12,000 on an RC car park would be unresponsible,” Baker said, noting that the car park is for hobbyists and requires specific equipment that doesn’t interest some Maquoketans. He said the council’s improvement efforts should focus on the “free” parks which require no set skills or equipment to be enjoyed.

Councilwoman Erica Barker agreed with Baker and suggested that a group form to raise money for the car park.

The car park is about economic development and bringing people into town, according to Councilman Mark Lyon, who supported the $12,000 allocation.

The city’s Parks Board will discuss whether to make just an asphalt track, which is the less expensive option, or do the track as well as the infield.