Courthouse quiet this Mem. Day

When the names of the Warren County veterans who have died in the past year are read this Memorial Day, it will be done in a new location.

While Memorial Day services are held all over, it’s been at least 27 years since the county’s service has taken place somewhere other than the steps of the Warren County Courthouse.

Ron Farnham, who has worked for the county for 27 years and been involved with the preparations for the Memorial Day services for many of those, said he does not remember a time when the service was not held at the courthouse.

This year’s ceremony will be held at Youngsville Cemetery on Highland Avenue.

In announcing the change of venue, Ed Burris of the Warren County Veterans Council wrote that it is a result of the council’s objection to a city policy that would result in veterans organizations having to pay to use city parks for their events.

Compared to a previous agreement, the city’s new park use rules would save the veterans groups money in a typical year.

At particular issue is Gen. Joseph Warren Park just west of the downtown business district at Pennsylvania Avenue and Poplar Street.

The park was formerly known as Triangle Park. According to Warren County Veterans Council member Joby McAulay, the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated the Gen. Joseph Warren monument at the park in 1910. Six years later, the name of the park was changed.

“The city wants to charge us veterans organizations $100 each time one of our veterans outfits uses Joseph Warren Park,” McAulay said. “It seems to me that that’s a veterans park. Why should the city want to charge us $100 each time a veterans organization wants to use that park?”

“We’re not discouraging anyone from using the parks,” Warren Parks and Recreation Director Mary Ann Nau said. The policy was set in order to assure the use of the parks is handled in a fair manner.

“I feel very strongly about veterans and so does (City) Manager (Nancy Freenock),” Nau said. “She’s trying to be fair across the board.”

“It makes me sick,” McAulay said. “That is a veterans’ park. If a veterans organization wants to use it, the city should jump at the chance.”

That the groups might save money is not the issue. “We consider those parks hallowed ground,” Walt Simpson of Disabled American Veterans said. “It bothers the veterans community that we have to pay to utilize the park.”

“What other city charges veterans organizations for the use of a veterans park?” he asked.

For years, the veterans council participated in the maintenance of the park, including paying the electric bill. “We agreed to take over a lot of things in the park,” Simpson said.

City and council officials estimate the annual electric bill between $200 and $400. The council used the park from time to time, generally twice a year. “We were very happy paying the electric bill down there and using it for events,” McAulay said.

That agreement is no longer in place. It was last year, according to Simpson, and the veterans paid for use of the park and were still footing the bill for the electricity.

The city is not allowing any organizations to provide services in lieu of payment for park use.

“By no means are we trying to single out the veterans,” Nau said. “We were trying to be fair with everyone across the board.”

The veterans agree that they are paying less than before and are questioning why the city would continue on that path. “It’s costing them more money to have control of that park,” McAulay said. “It doesn’t make sense. I just can’t see their reasoning.”

“They’re ahead of the game,” Nau said. “I don’t even know what the issue is.”

The council is showing its displeasure by moving events – starting with Memorial Day’s – out of the city.

That is not something the members hope to do on a long-term basis, but they are prepared to do so.

“It would be a shame for all us veterans to take and move our programs,” McAulay said. “It’s not what the Veterans Council wants.”

But, “if that’s what it comes to, that’s what it comes to. We can hold every function out of town,” McAulay said. “We could go to Sheffield. We could go to Sugar Grove. We could go any place.”

“A lot of the veterans organizations are really upset about this and you can’t blame them,” McAulay said.