County commissioners agreed to return $58,000 in cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department Monday but otherwise made no changes to the proposed Fiscal 23-24 budget.
There will be no tax increase, Finance Director Lacie Jacobs told the board during Monday’s public hearing. The base rate for county utility fees will rise from $27.25 to $28, as part of a multi-year adjustment to finance improvements to the system. The county tax rate will remain at 80.5 cents per $100 evaluation.
Jacobs and County Manager Eddie Madden emphasized that the $131 million budget was up from last year’s $99 million due to the inclusion of $31 million in school construction fees.
“This is a one-time expenditure,” Jacobs said.
The budget was balanced without using the county’s fund balance, referred to as a “rainy day fund.” While some capital expenditures required the temporary use of fund balance dollars, those funds are replaced through revenues.
Commissioners held a lengthy discussion over the fate of several parks identified as underutilized in the recent study of the parks system. All the parks in question are on private property or in the town limits of municipalities. The proposed Parks and Recreation budget called for the county to turn over maintenance of parks in Sandyfield, Lake Waccamaw, Bolton and elsewhere to the towns or private owners.
Among the parks being considered for changes are the Chadbourn Depot, the playground at the Fair Bluff Riverwalk, and town parks at Bolton, Sandyfield and Lake Waccamaw. Under the proposed changes, parks that are in town jurisdictions would be taken over by municipal parks and rec departments. Other parks in unincorporated areas would become the responsibility of the property owners or community organizations.
Commissioner Giles “Buddy” Byrd spoke out against the plan to cut maintenance funds for the parks. The savings from unfilled staff positions at Parks and Rec more than make up the cost of the maintenance, Byrd said.
The most recent parks and rec study was skewed due to taking place during the pandemic, Byrd said.
“I went to some of those meetings,” he said, “and the only people there were board members.”
Byrd also said he felt like it was unfair to residents in the outlying areas for those parks to be closed or no longer maintained by the county.
“Some of these parents have limited means,” he said. “What is somebody from Riegelwood going to do – drive to Bolton? Drive to the Lake? Go to Bladen County?”
Commissioner Trent Watts supported Byrd’s plan.
“This is less than half of one percent of the budget,” he said. “We need something for our children in the county.”
Commissioner Ricky Bullard said he knows of several parks in his area that are not utilized, and the county could benefit by focusing efforts on the more popular parks.
“Remember we are working on the plan for the major complex that will allow us to host tournaments and larger events,” Bullard said.
Madden pointed out that the Parks and Recreation Department has seen the same staffing problems as other agencies. At one point, Madden said, Parks and Rec had five employees to maintain and manage the county’s 25-plus parks.
Commissioners agreed to Byrd’s addition to the budget, voted to approve the budget document.
The budget message from County Manager Eddie Madden to the board is included here.
BUDGET MESSAGE FY 23-24