12/09/08 — New Rec Center will force tax hike

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New Rec Center will force tax hike

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on December 9, 2008 1:46 PM

Goldsboro's proposed Community Recreation Center could come with a price tag for taxpayers -- a possible tax increase of between 5 and 12 cents in July -- and a new park plan might have to be funded by private donations, City Council members said during a special meeting Monday.

Council also decided the Stoney Creek Park Alliance will not move forward with its Parks and Recreation Trust Fund application. Instead, the city will consider asking for the maximum amount of $500,000 in PARTF money for the Community Recreation Center.

Council members said Stoney Creek Park could mostly be paid for by branching out to resources in the community that might be willing to donate funds.

After Councilman Bob Waller and Alliance Chairman Dr. Peter Roethling asked council to approve the park plan and give them a specific number of committed funds from city coffers for the project, other members of the council showed opposition to moving forward with putting city money into the park at this time.

"We can come in at any amount," Waller said about the park costs. "This council has to decide what you want us to do."

"This estimate (for park costs at more than $1 million) is very high," Roethling said. "... An original $2 million park years ago has now become a $1 million park, and then cut that in half -- that's what we think we can get it to. And then cut that down to $250,000 or $200,000 depending on costs, and that's what the city would have to put in. In a perfect world, the city may only have to put up $100,000, with us raising funds in the community."

Councilman Chuck Allen told the two that if work is several months off, and they still need engineering drawings for the park, then the alliance should execute all of the resources available in the community first.

"In these economic times, we need to spend as little new money as we can," Allen said. "I see two problems with you applying for PARTF for the park right now. You won't be asking for the whole $500,000, and we need to get all of that money if we can. And if you do get the money, we don't have any new money to spend (for equal matching funds -- a PARTF requirement).

"I think we need to hold out for PARTF for the Community Center."

Allen added that if the city receives PARTF funds for the center, the matching funds could come from a loan that is already necessary to build it and not from the general fund.

"(Matching funds for) Stoney Creek Park would be a hit to the general fund," he said.

Allen said the alliance should go ahead and move forward with some of the amenities in the park that don't cost that much, like the dog park and disc golf course, or amenities the group already has money for, like $43,000 for walking trails.

Council members then asked City Manager Joe Huffman and Parks and Recreation Director Sonya Shaw what the PARTF consultant said about the possibility of using this year's application for the new recreation center.

Huffman said the consultant said the application would have positives and negatives.

"Goldsboro has never received any PARTF grant money before, so we have that in our favor. And this year there aren't as many applicants," Huffman said.

But he added that the consultant didn't think the Community Recreation Center would fare well in the PARTF process.

"Stoney Creek Park would be (a) more competitive (application)," Huffman said.

Mrs. Shaw said she got the same information from the consultant.

She added that PARTF would not fund a membership-based fitness center, but if the center wasn't membership-based, grant funds could be used for its operational costs if the city ran the center instead of the Family YMCA.

"They're just not in favor of putting public money in that type of facility," she said.

Allen said who would run the facility and if it would have a membership system is still up in the air and will be based highly on what Sports Facilities Advisory, a firm the council hired to study projected operational costs for the city and for the Family YMCA, reports in January.

"I think that's still up for discussion, and I think we should wait until we get solid numbers back to talk about it anymore," he added.

But then Allen suggested another theory -- to not apply for the PARTF grant this year at all.

"The problem I have is putting any amount of new money into the park project," he added.

Then Mayor Al King asked the rest of the council members what they thought.

"After listening to the financial update last week, I'm not sure there's an amount I feel comfortable with putting aside for any project right now," Councilman Don Chatman said.

"I slightly disagree with you when you say no projects," Councilman the Rev. Charles Williams said. "The taxpayers are very much aware of what's going on with the community center. They might not all agree, but they know what is going on."

"If you raise taxes 10 or 15 cents, do you think they'd feel the same way?" Chatman asked.

Councilman Jackie Warrick said that when the City Council, excluding Michael Headen and including Jimmy Bryan, decided on the next projects to fund, the Paramount Theatre and the Community Recreation Center were at the top of the list.

"The park was like fifth on the list. But when we agreed on that, we had a thriving economy," he said. "I'm not going to agree to go on any more big budget items until we see where the economy is going. We haven't gotten new police cars in four or five years. We need fire trucks and sanitation trucks. We already know we're going to have to have a tax increase in July."

King expressed the same sentiment.

"A lot of things we had that we wanted to do, we may not get to do. We may do it later, but not right now. We must proceed cautiously on any expenditure," he said.

Finance Director Kaye Scott told the council that to make the payments on the Community Recreation Center -- a 5 cent tax increase was needed. Covering the center's operating costs would likely cost another 5 to 7 cents.

"You can put it out there to the public and see if they are willing to pay the tax for the recreation center," Allen said.

"Let's do that then," Headen said.

The council didn't make a decision on a public meeting on the tax increase for the purpose of building the Community Recreation Center, but it did take action on one item -- approving a $2,500 contract with Comprehensive Master Plan writer Judy Hills to write the PARTF grant for the Community Recreation Center in a 5-2 vote. Headen and Warrick voted against the motion.

Members are expected to OK the Stoney Creek Park plan at their regularly scheduled session on Dec. 15. The council couldn't approve the plan at Monday's meeting because it was a meeting held specifically for budget items.