Towns aim to preserve park funding

aspecht@newsobserver.comApril 26, 2013 

Several Wake County towns are lobbying state budget writers to preserve a program that funds municipal parks and recreation projects across North Carolina.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget cuts about $12 million, or 44 percent, of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The fund is divided among state parks, beach accesses and local governments, which receive 30 percent of the funding.

Under McCrory’s budget proposal, funds available to local governments would shrink to about $4.65 million from about $8 million this year. Wake County towns – Apex, Cary, Garner, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh and Wake Forest – altogether account for $3 million of $20.7 million requested by more than 60 local governments this year.

Local opponents of McCrory’s proposal say the funds are especially critical to the Triangle, which consistently ranks among the top places to live in the U.S. partially because of its recreation offerings. Since the fund’s inception in 1994, it has provided more than $161 million through 722 grants to 370 local governments.

The high demand for PARTF funds “demonstrates across the state that there’s a huge unmet need for public parks and recreation facilities,” said Kathy Capps, grants and risk manager for Raleigh’s parks and recreation department.

Raleigh is requesting about $400,000 for the Sassafras All Children’s Playground it hopes to complete by 2016. Without a PARTF grant, though, “it could take a lot longer to build,” Capps said.

Crystal Feldman, the governor’s press secretary, says McCrory proposes moving PARTF money into the general fund to increase transparency.

“We also need to address the more immediate needs for money in the General Fund to pay for ever-increasing Medicaid cost overruns as well as public school enrollment and more teachers in the classroom,” Feldman wrote in an email.

She said local governments could request funding for parks and recreation projects from the General Assembly.

Knightdale Mayor Russell Killen laughed at that suggestion.

“It seems unlikely that municipalities would go to the current General Assembly to ask for money of any sort,” Killen said. “Because we wouldn’t get it.”

Knightdale applied for $400,000 to help pay for Phase Two of a 70-acre park in its downtown. Killen worries shrinking the pot of available funds gives bigger towns an unfair advantage for continued growth and economic development.

“A lot of the jobs come to places with parks and recreation opportunities,” Killen said, noting rapid growth in Cary and Raleigh. “Now we’re at the point where we need to grow (economically), and the funding won’t be there.”

Staff writers Aliana Ramos and Kyle Jahner contributed.

Specht: 919-829-4826

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